WASHINGTON — Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by 30,000 to 339,000 in the October 6 week, the lowest level seen since February 16, 2008 when claims were also 339,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The median estimate of economists surveyed by MNI was for 365,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the initially reported 367,000 level in the September 29 week. That week's claims level was revised up by 2,000 to 369,000.

A Labor Department analyst said that seasonal factors expected a decline of 18.3% in unadjusted claims in the October 6 week. Instead, unadjusted claims fell just 8.6% to a level of 327,063 in the current week. Unadjusted claims were at a level of 405,906 in the comparable week a year ago.

The analyst noted that there were no special factors in the current week's data and no states were estimated, but said there tends to be more volatility when the seasonal adjustment is expecting large swings in claims.

The initial claims seasonally adjusted 4-week moving average was 364,000 in the October 6 week.

The state data released for the September 29 week indicated unadjusted initial claims increased in 28 states and declined in 25 states, with no states unchanged. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands are included in this data.

Continuing claims came in at 3.273 million after seasonal adjustment in the September 29 week, unchanged from the previous week.

Unadjusted continuing claims fell by 42,837 to 2,778,396 in the week, and remains below the 3,113,245 level in the comparable week a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate held steady at 2.6%, as it has since March, and is still down from the 2.9% rate in the comparable week a year earlier.

The unemployment rate among the insured labor force is well below that reported monthly by the Labor Department because claims are approved for the most part only for job losers, not the job leavers and labor force reentrants included in the monthly report.

The Labor Department said that the level of unadjusted Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits claims fell by 36,977 in the September 22 week, bringing that category total to 2,106,072.

Extended benefits claims rose by 13,802 to 35,186 in the September 22 week, due to the state of New York returning to the program starting September 9.

The extended benefits program pays claims after a person has exhausted regular unemployment benefits and the four tiers of Emergency Unemployment Claims. The program provides benefits for an additional 13 weeks but some states can volunteer to pay extended benefits for an additional 7 weeks for a total of 20 weeks.

The extended benefits program can be triggered if a state has an unemployment rate above 8% and is more than 110% of that state's unemployment rate in one of the three previous years. New York is the only state now eligible for this program, as Idaho dropped off recently.

The Labor Department reported that a total of 5,044,649 persons claimed unemployment benefits in the September 22 week, a decline of 43,970 from the previous week and still well below the 6,819,938 persons in the comparable week a year ago. These data are not seasonally adjusted, and include regular state claims, federal employee claims, new veterans claims, the EUC and extended benefits programs, state additional benefits, and STC/Workshare claims.

Market News International is a real-time global news service for fixed-income and foreign exchange market professionals. See www.marketnews.com.

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