The average number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign that the job market is healing.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.
Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have mostly fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers have added an average of 151,000 jobs a month in the first 11 months of 2012. That's just enough to slowly reduce the unemployment rate.
Economists were mildly encouraged by the decline in applications. But they emphasized that the figures are volatile around the holidays. They were also distorted until recent weeks by Superstorm Sandy.
2. I'm always amused by the 'people who quit looking for work' meme.
How does one do that? Where do these millions of people go? From my personal experience, half my friends hold jobs, the rest freelance for a living. Of course, we have our own specialized niche and a large network built over the years to find consistent work. On my wife's side, all her siblings run their own businesses. I don't know anybody who's just stopped looking for work.