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Seesawing jobless claims cloud recovery outlook

WASHINGTON - Applications for unemployment aid have been fluctuating from week to week, offering an uncertain view of layoffs and the job market.

First-time requests for jobless aid dropped last week to their lowest level since early May, the government said Thursday, erasing increases made in the last two months.

Initial jobless claims fell by 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 454,000, the Labor Department said. The four-week average of claims dropped slightly to 466,000 last week. In a healthy economic recovery with rapid hiring, claims usually fall below 400,000. Claims are down from last year's peak of 651,000 in March 2009 but are barely below early January's level of 456,000.

Still, economists say it's hard to detect a trend in one week of declines. Initial claims have seesawed for several weeks and are not much lower than they were in January.

Elevated unemployment claims, along with last month's weak jobs report and a struggling housing market, have suggested that the recovery is slowing.

"While the report is good news, it would need to be followed up by several more weeks to suggest a pickup in hiring," Julia Coronado, an economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note to clients.

States reporting the largest jump in claims included New York, which saw an increase of 3,473, due to greater layoffs in construction and services, the government reported.- AP

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