- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2010

The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week to the lowest total in a month as states cleared out administrative delays left over from the Christmas holidays.

The Labor Department said that first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped by 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 440,000. Wall Street economists expected a smaller decline of 15,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

A Labor Department analyst said the decline largely reflects the end of administrative backlogs in California and other states that had elevated claims in the previous three weeks.

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The winter storms that have pounded the Mid-Atlantic states took place after last week’s claims were filed, the analyst said. If they have an effect, it won’t be evident until next week’s data.

The four-week average fell by 1,000 to 468,500, the first drop after three weeks of increases.

Claims are now close to the low levels they reached in late December, when claims dropped to their lowest point in nearly 18 months. That is likely to raise hopes that the job market is improving.

The number of people claiming benefits for more than a week, meanwhile, fell by nearly 80,000 to 4.5 million. That was a steeper decline than expected.

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