First-time claims for U.S. jobless benefits fell sharply last week, potentially easing worries about the labor market in the world’s largest economy.
The government’s Labor Department reported Thursday that 365,000 newly unemployed workers sought unemployment compensation, down 27,000 from the week before. It was the biggest weekly drop in initial claims in nearly a year.
Claims for jobless benefits had risen in recent weeks. That raised fears that employers were laying off more workers and that new hiring was slowing.
The weekly jobless claims figure came a day before the government’s key monthly report on the national unemployment rate for April and the number of jobs added to the U.S. economy. Both figures are watched as a barometer on the state of the economy.
Economists are predicting that March’s 8.2 percent unemployment rate will remain unchanged and that about 160,000 jobs were added last month. That would be higher than the 120,000 figure in March, but still well below the average of nearly 250,000 in the early part of the year.
The jobless rate remains elevated in the United States as the country slowly recovers from its worst economic downturn in seven decades. Nearly 13 million workers are unemployed, many of them for extended periods.
The state of the American economy has emerged as the central issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign. The presumptive Republican contender, one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney, has accused President Barack Obama, a Democrat, of mismanaging the economy. Romney says that he could advance the economy at a faster pace, while Mr. Obama says his policies have spurred job growth.