The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits dipped below 400,000 last week, a key move that indicates the job market is improving.
The 397,000 initial claims were down 9,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The figure has hovered near 400,000 for several weeks. The average over the last month has been 404,500.
At the height of the Great Recession, in early 2009, weekly claims were above 600,000.
The new data come a day before the government will release the October unemployment report. Economists are expecting about 100,000 jobs were created last month, slow growth that is unlikely to significantly move the nation’s 9.1% unemployment rate.
But the jobless claim figures Thursday were another sign of modest progress recently in the economic recovery. Last week, the government reported that the economy grew at a 2.5% annual rate from July through September.
The improved economic growth — nearly double the pace in the second quarter — was cited by the Federal Reserve on Wednesday as an indication that the recovery has begun to strengthen. Still, with the European debt crisis hanging over the global economy, the Fed downgraded its projections for growth through 2013.
The Fed said the unemployment rate would not drop below 9% this year and would remain high next year, within a range of 8.5% to 8.7%.
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