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Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Decrease 1,000 to 404,000

The number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits was little changed last week, showing the labor market is making scant progress.

Applications for unemployment insurance payments decreased 1,000 in the week ended Oct. 8 to 404,000, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 405,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls dropped to the lowest level in six months.

While U.S. employers hired more workers than anticipated in September, elevated firings signal companies may be slower to expand payrolls in the next few months. Political gridlock in Washington, with the Senate this week blocking the advance of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan, is another sign that any improvement on the job front will be slow to develop.

“The labor market is treading water, maybe slightly better than that,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in New York. “Hanging out around 400,000 claims is indicative of a still very soggy labor market that is not going anywhere fast.”

Estimates for first-time claims ranged from 390,000 to 415,000 in the Bloomberg News survey of 50 economists. The Labor Department initially reported the prior week’s applications at 401,000.

Near-Record Exports

The U.S. trade deficit was $45.6 billion in August, little changed from the previous month, as exports held near a record, data from the Commerce Department showed today. The gap was in line with median projection of $45.8 billion in a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

Stock-index futures held earlier losses after JPMorgan Chase & Co., the first of the major banks to post third-quarter results, said earnings fell. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in December dropped 0.4 percent to 1,193 at 8:44 a.m. in New York. Treasury securities rose, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year note down to 2.18 percent from 2.21 percent late yesterday.

A Labor Department official today said there was nothing unusual in the state data last week. Figures for last week in four states and the District of Columbia were estimated because government offices were closed on Oct. 10 due to the Columbus Day holiday.

Average Declines

The four-week moving average, a less-volatile measure, fell to a two-month low of 408,000 from 415,000.

The number of people continuing to collect jobless benefits dropped by 55,000 in the week ended Oct. 1 to 3.67 million, the fewest since mid April. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of workers receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

Those who’ve used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments increased by about 2,300 to 3.55 million in the week ended Sept. 24.

The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits fell to 2.9 percent in the week ended Oct. 1 from 3 percent, today’s report showed. Thirty states and territories reported an increase in claims, while 23 had a decrease.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to fall as job growth -- measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls report -- accelerates.

September Payrolls

Recession fears eased last week when Labor Department figures showed American employers added more workers than forecast in September. Payrolls increased by 103,000 after a 57,000 gain the prior month that was initially reported as no change. The jobless rate held at 9.1 percent.

Some Federal Reserve officials last month saw “considerable uncertainty” that growth will pick up and wanted to keep further asset purchases as an option to boost the economy, according to the minutes of the central bank’s meeting issued yesterday.

Financial firms on New York’s Wall Street may shed almost 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012 as Europe’s debt crisis slows the economy, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in an Oct. 11 report. After adding 9,900 jobs between January 2010 and April 2011, the securities industry shed 4,100 positions through August, DiNapoli said. Each job gained or lost in the industry creates or eliminates three other jobs in New York City and state, he said.

The U.S. Senate voted Oct. 10 to block President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan. Two Democrats joined the Republican minority, preventing the bill from moving forward. The legislation includes cuts in payroll taxes for workers and employers and provides new funding for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“Tonight’s vote is by no means the end of this fight,” Obama said in a statement. As they vote on each component, “members of Congress can either explain to their constituents why they’re against commonsense, bipartisan proposals to create jobs, or they can listen to the overwhelming majority of American people who are crying out for action.”

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