WASHINGTON - The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits fell sharply last week, offering a dose of encouraging news that the recovery in the labor market may be strengthening a bit.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that new filings for unemployment insurance declined by a seasonally adjusted 25,000 to 329,000 for the week ending Oct. 16. That marked the lowest level since early September. In the prior week, claims had climbed by 16,000.
The latest snapshot of the layoffs climate was better than economists were expecting. They were forecasting claims to total in the 345,000 range.
The more stable, four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, decreased by 5,500 last week to 348,250, the best showing since late September.
President Bush and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, frequently spar over the health of the economy and the availability of jobs in the United States. Bush says his tax cuts helped the economy to rebound from the 2001 recession. Kerry contends the tax cuts mainly benefited the wealthy and plunged the government's balance sheets deeper into red ink.
Some analysts are predicting the economy, which grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, expanded at around a 4 percent pace in the July-to-September quarter. Although the nation's payrolls have been growing this year, the economy has lost a net 821,000 jobs since Bush took office in 2001.
Thursday's report also showed that the number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits fell by 8,000 to nearly 2.8 million for the week ending Oct. 9, the most recent period for which that information is available. That's an improvement from a year ago, when this figure stood at 3.5 million.