Jobless claims at lowest level in nearly 7 years

Initial jobless claims plunged last week to their lowest level in nearly seven years, a sign that the labor market was picking up traction.

The number of first-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped to 300,000 last week, a decrease of 32,000 from the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. The last time claims were this low was in May 2007.

The four-week average, which is a less volatile barometer, fell by 4,750 last week to 316,250.

The Labor Department said “there were no special factors” that affected the week’s data. Economists have said job creation should perk up in the spring as businesses try to make up for a slowdown in the winter, when harsh storms dogged many parts of the country.

The jobless-claims figures bolster other signs of an improving market for people hunting for work.

The Labor Department reported last Friday that the U.S. economy gained a solid net 192,000 new jobs in March, finally recovering all the private-sector jobs lost during the downturn and bringing nongovernmental payrolls above the previous peak reached in January 2008.

Experts caution, however, that jobless-claims numbers can be unpredictable during March and April.

Spring break at schools could bring a rise in claims in coming weeks, because contract workers in some states are allowed to file for temporary benefits during that time. The Easter and Passover holidays could also affect data crunchers’ ability to adjust for seasonal changes.

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