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Jobless Claims Drop, Previous Week's Increase Erased

The number of people filing first-time claims for jobless benefits fell by 35,000 last week, to 353,000, the Employment and Training Administration just reported.

That brings the level about back to where it was three weeks ago and down near a four-year low — but also keeps claims in the range where they've been trending for about the last year.

Whether the claims report is giving us a clear sense of how the labor market is doing, however, is uncertain. According to Bloomberg News:

"Changes in the annual auto plant shutdowns that occur this time of year have made it difficult to adjust the data for seasonal variations, the Labor Department has said. ... 'I'm not sure we can see a clean number for another week or two yet,' Bob Baur, chief global economist at Principal Global Investors in Des Moines, Iowa, said before the report. 'I look at the labor market and see it's gradually healing, just healing very slowly. Businesses are reluctant to do anything.' "

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.