WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell for a fourth straight week, an encouraging sign that the job market is holding up in the midst of a host of otherwise bad economic news.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 1,000 to 301,000 last week.
It marked the fourth straight weekly improvement and pushed claims down to the lowest level in four months. The string of falling claims numbers was a welcome sign after a big increase in the unemployment rate to 5 percent in December had increased worries about a possible recession.
The decline in jobless claims was unexpected. Analysts had been forecasting that the number of laid off workers applying for benefits would actually rise by 19,000 under a belief that a prolonged slump in housing and a severe credit crunch would prompt businesses to trim their employment roles.
Some economists cautioned that the job market is still likely to weaken in coming months, given the expected sharp slowdown in economic activity.
Rising worries about a possible recession in the United States triggered a global stock market sell-off at the beginning of this week.
However, Wall Street staged a huge rebound on Wednesday as investors became more optimistic following action by the Federal Reserve to cut a key interest rate by a bold three-fourths of a percentage point.
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