WASHINGTON — Initial jobless claims dropped 21,000 to a four-month low of 434,000 the week ending Oct. 23 , the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Initial claims for the week ending Oct. 16 were revised upward to 455,000 from 452,000.

Continuing claims fell to 4.356 million for the week ending Oct. 16, the lowest level since November 2008, when they were 4.142 million. Continuing claims for the week ending Oct. 9 were revised upward to 4.478 million.

The jobless figures were lower than the 450,000 initial claims and 4.4 million continuing claims that economists expected, according to Thomson Reuters.

New filings for unemployment benefits have averaged 464,000 a week in 2010 and the new 434,000 level is the year’s second-lowest reading.

“The news is welcome, but not enough to assure the [Federal Reserve] that the economy is on firmer footing,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said in a research note.

“The level of claims is still too high to be reassuring for an economy that is supposed to be almost 16 months into a recovery. We should be seeing claims closer to 350,000 than 450,000 by now,” she said.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, a less volatile figure, fell to 453,250 from a revised 458,750.

The four-week average for continuing claims fell to 4.447 million, the lowest level since Dec. 13, 2008, from a revised 4.486 million.

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