WASHINGTON (AP) - The average number of people seeking unemployment benefits over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign that the job market is healing.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.
Still, the figures were affected by the Christmas holiday. A department spokesman said many state unemployment offices were closed Monday and Tuesday and unable to compile complete data. Fourteen states provided estimates and the department estimated the numbers for five additional states.
The government might estimate one or two states in a typical week, but 19 state estimates are unusually high.
Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have mostly fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers have added an average of 151,000 jobs a month in the first 11 months of 2012. That's just enough to slowly reduce the unemployment rate.
The recent decline in unemployment benefit applications suggests companies are not yet slashing jobs because of concerns over the "fiscal cliff." That's the name for sharp tax increases and spending cuts that are scheduled to take effect next week unless the Obama administration and Congress can reach a deal before then.
Still, unemployment remains high and companies are reluctant to ramp up hiring. The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in October mostly because many of the unemployed stopped looking for jobs. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively searching for work.
Negotiations between President Barack Obama and House Republican leaders on a package to avoid the fiscal cliff stalemated last week. Obama and congressional lawmakers return to Washington Thursday with just days to go before the deadline.
There are signs the economy is improving. The once-battered housing market is recovering, which should lead to more construction jobs in the coming months. Companies ordered more long-lasting manufactured goods in November, a sign they are investing more in equipment and software. And Americans spent more in November. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic growth.
While a short fall over the cliff won't push the economy into recession, most economists expect some tax increases to take effect next year. That could slow growth.
Consumers are starting to worry about higher taxes. A measure of consumer confidence fell to a five-month low this month, a survey released Friday found. And reports show the holiday shopping season was the weakest since 2008, when the country was in a deep recession.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Governor Malloy congratulated the responders Wednesday, for their swift actions at the University of New Haven.
A 23-year-old Bridgeport pharmacy employee was arrested for home invasion Tuesday, after forcing his way into a 78-year-old man's apartment and robbing him.
Westport police are searching for 85-year-old man who has been missing since 9:30 Wednesday morning.
Connecticut police say they have arrested a Massachusetts couple who authorities believed might harm themselves and their special needs son.
Todd Ruggere, a 39-year-old married father of one, is on a mission to raise as much money as he can to help kids with cancer.
With Christmas less than a month away, many people throughout Connecticut are heading out to area farms this week to find a holiday tree for their home.
Recordings released Wednesday of 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting show town dispatchers urged panicked callers to take cover, mobilized help and asked about the welfare of the children as the boom of gunfire could …
Yesterday's gun scare at the University of New Haven was the latest in a string of local campus lockdowns. And today the 911 calls from the tragic Sandy Hook shooting were released. Those are two topics that many of you are calling in …
A Willimantic couple is sitting behind bars after police say they repeatedly sexually assaulted a young girl. Wednesday that couple faced a judge.
Pet sellers in Connecticut say it will put them out of business. Animal rights activists say it's the only way to control where puppies, kittens and rabbits come from.