AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply for a fourth straight week, a sign that the job market may be improving.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 29,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 343,000, the lowest in two months. It is the second-lowest total this year.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop indicates that companies are cutting fewer jobs. But employers also need to step up hiring to rapidly push down the unemployment rate.
Applications spiked five weeks ago because of Superstorm Sandy. The storm’s impact has now faded. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 27,000 to 381,500. Before the storm, applications had fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 this year.
The storm had little effect on overall hiring in November. Employers added 146,000 jobs last month, the government said last week. That’s about the same as the average monthly gain of 150,000 in the past year.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent _ a four-year low _ from 7.9 percent in October. But the decline occurred mostly because more people without jobs gave up looking for work. The government counts people without jobs as unemployed only if they’re actively seeking one.
The department also said Tuesday that employers posted the most open jobs in four months in October. That suggests that hiring could pick up a bit in the coming months.
But some companies may postpone hiring this month because of concerns over the “fiscal cliff,” the package of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect next year. If all the changes in the cliff take effect for a full year, economists forecast it would push the economy into recession.
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are negotiating a potential deficit-reduction deal that would avert the cliff. The goal is to complete an agreement by the end of the year, though talks could continue into January.
Most economists say that if the tax increases and spending cuts are in effect only temporarily while a budget agreement is in sight, the damage to the economy would be minor.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Water tips to save money, help save the Earth
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them
- Today's radiation treatments offer better success, fewer side effects
- Tips to make watching TV on the patio even better
- What really happens when you donate to a community college?
- Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction
- 5 critical lifestyle changes for a healthy colon
- What you need to know about Alzheimer's disease in Arizona
- Spring clean your windows like a pro with these 8 tips
- 7 films that should have won best-picture Oscars
- New plumbing technology saves money and improves your home
- Survey shows Arizona CFOs optimistic about 2016
- How chronic pain can affect your love life
- 5 potential warning signs about your child's development