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Dec 7, 11:14 AM EST

Applications for US unemployment benefits post third weekly decline, falling to 236,000


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AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of unemployed workers filing for jobless benefits fell by 2,000 last week to 236,000, the lowest level in five weeks and further evidence of the strength in the labor market.

Last week's applications total was the third consecutive weekly drop, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 750 to 241,500.

The number of people receiving aid fell by 52,000 to 1.91 million, remaining near a four-decade low set last month.

Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs. The weekly number has been below 300,000 for close to three years, a stretch not seen in more than four decades. The government will release the November unemployment figure on Friday and private economists believe that figure will show unemployment remaining at 4.1 percent.

What you need to know:

-The continued low readings on weekly jobless claims show that the labor market has recovered from the devastation caused by the 2007-2009 Great Recession, the worst downturn since the 1930s.

-With unemployment at 4.1 percent, that is well below the level the Federal Reserve considers full employment. That is a key reason most economists are forecasting the Fed will nudge interest rates up for a third time this year at their meeting next week.

-The rebound in hiring is expected to be exhibited in Friday's employment numbers. Many analysts forecasting the economy created a healthy 200,000 jobs in November. Employers added 261,000 jobs in October, a solid gain after hiring fell in September because of the storms.

-The Labor Department says the destruction from the September hurricanes is still disrupting claims processing in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

-The economy is growing at rates that should support strong hiring gains in coming months. The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, expanded at a 3.3 percent pace in the July-September quarter after a 3.1 percent gain in the spring. Those were the first back-to-back quarterly gains above 3 percent in three years.

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