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Initial jobs claims drop more than expected

WASHINGTON - New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week as layoffs ease and hiring slowly recovers.

The decline brought the four-week average of claims, which smooths volatility, to its lowest level since September 2008, when the financial crisis intensified.

The Labor Department said first-time claims for jobless benefits dropped by 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 442,000. That's below analysts' estimates of 450,000, according to Thomson Reuters.

The government reported that initial claims fell the most in New York, with a decline of 4,142, because of fewer layoffs in the construction, transportation and manufacturing industries.

The report is an encouraging sign that the economy is getting closer to generating job gains, economists said.

"We're on the cusp of a hiring recovery," said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities.

Most of the drop resulted from a change in the calculations the Labor Department makes to adjust the data seasonally, a department analyst said. Seasonal adjustment attempts to filter out expected changes in employment such as the layoff of temporary retail employees after the winter holidays.

Initial claims have fallen in three of the past four weeks. Many economists say claims need to fall below 425,000 to signal that the economy will consistently create jobs.- AP

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