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First-time claims for jobless benefits at 359,000 last week, after large revision

The Department of Labor announced this morning that for the week ending March 24, seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment benefits was 359,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 364,000. This week's report includes revisions of the jobs claims statistics for the past five years. Those revisions show that first-time claims have been under 400,000 for the past 23 weeks.

The four-week moving average that is widely preferred because it flattens volatility in the weekly figure, was 365,000, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average of 368,500.

Counting both regular programs and the federally mandated emergency extensions, the total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending March 10 was 7,153,252. That was a decrease of 131,488 from the previous week. Because of a congressional deal over the payroll tax cut, the emergency extensions that provide benefits of up to 99 weeks in the worst-hit states will be cut to a maximum of 63 weeks by September. That means the total claimants will drop markedly over the next few months without the unemployment situation necessarily improving.

Meanwhile, in its third report on gross domestic product for the fourth quarter of 2011, the Commerce Department reported annualized growth of 3 percent, unchanged from its second report. It was less than analysts' forecasts of 3.2 percent.

A key figure in the GDP report, real final sales of domestic product, which is GDP minus the change in private inventories—rose 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with an increase of 3.2 percent in the third. For all of 2011, GDP rose an anemic 1.8 percent.


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