New State Unemployment Claims Fall

New claims for state unemployment insurance dropped by 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 376,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The decline for the work week ending Feb. 2 followed a revised 31,000 jump in claims the week before. Jobless claims slowly have been declining since peaking Oct. 20 at 507,000.

Last week's level was the lowest since Jan. 19.

The more stable four-week moving average of new claims, which smoothes out week-to-week fluctuations, fell last week to 380,500, the lowest level since Aug. 18.

The nation's unemployment rate hit a six-year high in December, but tumbled 0.2 percentage points to 5.6 percent in January.

There have been growing signs that the nation's first recession in a decade is ending, and the Federal Reserve resisted cutting interest rates last week after doing so 11 times in 2001.

But the job market will be slowest to recover, and economists think the unemployment rate probably will continue to rise into the summer to as high as 6.5 percent. That's because the level of job growth in the early stages of the recovery probably will not be enough to accommodate new workers as they enter the job market.

For the work week ending Jan. 26, no states reported increases in new claims for unemployment benefits. The state information lags a week behind the national figures and is not seasonally adjusted.

States and territories with the biggest declines in claims include California, plummeting 12,815; North Carolina, falling 11,548; Georgia, dropping 9,865; Michigan, falling 8,752; and Missouri, dropping 8,483.

California offered no reason for the big declines. North Carolina said it had fewer layoffs in the furniture, construction, trade and textiles industries. Georgia reported fewer layoffs in textiles and electrical equipment and Missouri said it had fewer layoffs in transportation.