National

Mar 18, 2010 9:51 AM by Bea Karnes, News First 5

First-time jobless claims drop slightly

The number of newly laid-off workers requesting jobless benefits fell slightly last week for the third straight week. But initial claims remain above levels that would signal net job gains.

The Labor Department says new claims for unemployment insurance fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000. That nearly matched analysts' estimates of 455,000, according to Thomson Reuters.

The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped to 471,250. Still, the average has increased by 30,000 since the start of this year. That's raised concerns among economists that persistent unemployment could weaken the recovery.

The average is also far above the 400,000-to-425,000 level that many economists say claims must fall below before widespread new hiring is likely.

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