March 13, 2014 8:30 AM, EDT
Jobless Claims in US Fall to Lowest Level Since November
Tim Boyle/Bloomberg News

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level since the end of November, a sign of further improvement in the labor market.

Jobless claims dropped by 9,000 to 315,000 in the week ended March 8, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 53 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a rise to 330,000. Continuing claims decreased for a third straight week.

Employers cutting back on dismissals may be encouraged to take on more workers once demand picks up. Faster gains in hiring will help to boost consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, after harsh winter weather weighed on everything from retail sales to home purchases earlier this year.

“The trend in jobless claims remains favorable,” Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pa., said before the report. He is the top forecaster of unemployment claims the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “If businesses were really concerned about the economy’s direction or if they believed the recent weakness is not weather-related, then we would have seen them increase firings. But they’re holding tight.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for unemployment claims ranged from 315,000  to 347,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure to 324,000 from an initially reported 323,000.

No states had to estimate claims last week and there were no special factors behind the decrease, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released.

The jobless claims report showed the four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, fell to 330,500 last week from 336,750.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits decreased by 48,000 to 2.86 million in the week ended March 1, the lowest level since December.

The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 2.2% in the week ended March 1. Thirty-four states and territories reported an increase in claims, while 19 reported a decrease. Both pieces of data are reported with a one-week lag.