U.S. jobless claims fell in the latest week but remained close to levels linked with persistently high unemployment, Labor Department data released Thursday showed.
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First-time applications for jobless aid dropped to 391,000 in the week ended Feb. 19, down from 413,000 a week earlier. The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out volatility, dropped to 402,000, the lowest since mid-2008, before the financial crisis took a turn for the worse.
Claims have been bouncing around 400,000 for several weeks, having retreated sharply from peaks above 650,000 seen in early 2009.
The number of Americans remaining on the jobless rolls after the initial week of benefits declined by 145,000 to 3.79 million. The total number of overall benefit recipients, including those receiving assistance under an emergency federal program, edged down in the latest week but remained around 9.2 million.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell sharply in the last two months to 9.0%, an encouraging sign that a long-dormant job market was coming back to life. However, hiring has remained anemic, and analysts worry about the impact of renewed spikes in oil prices on the ability of U.S. firms to commit to new investments.