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U.S. Jobless Claims Fall to Seven-Year Low

Fewer Americans signed up for unemployment benefits over the past month than at any time in seven years. Although jobless claims rose slightly last week, the average over the past four weeks settled in at 310,250. That’s pretty low. Take a look:

Climbing down the jobless mountainBloombergClimbing down the jobless mountain

So fewer people are getting fired, and fewer are taking unemployment benefits: 2.6 million in all as of last month. That’s down from a peak of 6.6 million in May 2009 and the lowest since October 2007.

The number of people on unemployment is down 60% since 2009 BloombergThe number of people on unemployment is down 60% since 2009

Now if hiring would only pick up. The 288,000 increase in jobs in April marked the best payroll report in more than two years. But while the headline number was great, some strange, ugly stuff was underneath. The continued shrinkage of the labor force, which fell by about 800,000 people in April, has pushed the participation rate down to 62.8 percent, its lowest level in 36 years. On top of that, the household component of the payroll survey showed an outright decline of 73,000 jobs.

We’ll find out Friday whether that hiring momentum kept up through May, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases it’s payroll report. Right now, economists are expecting some solid data. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg is for a gain of 215,000.

Philips is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @matthewaphilips.

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