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U.S. jobless claims fall to 4-year low

U.S. jobless claims fell to a four-year low last week, according to Labor Department statistics announced Thursday. 

Figures from the Labor Department showed that weekly applications for jobless benefits decreased by 5,000 to 348,000 in the week that ended March 17, the lowest since March 2008, just months into the recession, the New York Times reported

The number of claims filed is a good economic indicator of whether layoffs are rising or falling, MarketWatch reported. Economists had initially estimated claims would rise to 353,000, according to MarketWatch, but the number of claims was lower than expected. 

"There is more going on here than merely the benefits of a mild winter. We believe that stronger job creation will be sustained throughout 2012," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York, according to Reuters

The economy grew at an annual rate of 3 percent in the final three months of last year, up from 1.8 percent in the previous quarter, according to the New York Times. Economists expect growth will slow in the current quarter to below 2.5 percent, despite an increase in companies' hiring. 

34 percent of respondents to Bloomberg’s monthly consumer expectations survey said they believed the economy was improving, the largest vote of confidence since January 2004, Bloomberg Businessweek reported

However, long-term unemployment remains a significant issue, Reuters reported. About 43 percent of the 12.8 million jobless Americans in February had been unemployed for more than six months.

7.28 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week that ended March 3, the latest week for which data is available, Reuters reported.

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This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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