The hiring climate appears to have improved slightly in the final weeks of February, as the number of first-time applications for unemployment benefits dropped off precipitously, a recent report from the Department of Labor shows.
The improved figures were fodder for analysts, many of whom stated that the report showed unexpected improvement across the labor market. According to the DOL figures, 344,000 people filed for unemployment in the week ended February 22, lower than the 366,00 reported in the previous week. The reading also came in well below economists' forecast for 360,000 first-time jobless claims.
Even better news for the labor market, the four-week average of new jobless claims - a much more accurate depiction of how many people are filing for unemployment - fell by 6,750 to 355,000. This number is generally more accepted than per-week readings, as economists say it does not reflect the one-time effects that can influence jobless claims, such as weather or other unique events.
According to CNN, unemployment applications have fallen about 3 percent since the same period last year, and in the last three months, the number of new claims has fluctuated between 330,000 and 375,000. Experts say this is a normal range given the average 180,000 jobs that have been added every month. Still, economists point out, this is not quite a rate that can keep pace with how fast the U.S. population is growing, and likely doesn't have the gravity to lower the stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Other recent data released by the government show the number of job openings, which is one way to gauge demand for workers in any particular industry, dropped from 3.8 million in November to 3.6 million in December, Reuters reports. In the retail sector, job openings fell by 76,000 to 420,000. As for manufacturing staffing, open positions fell to 259,000 from 281,000 in the previous month.