The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped last week to 530,000, down 21,000 from the previous week.
The 530,000 mark – the third lowest number of claims in 2009 and the lowest since the week ending July 11 – surprised many analysts, who had expected the number of claims to remain the same or even tick up slightly.
There was also a decline of 123,000 in the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits, bringing that total down to 6.1 million for the week ending Sept 12, the last week for which information is available.
While a positive sign, Joseph Cater of Market-Economics in Annapolis, Md. said that seasonal variation in hiring patterns may account for much of the gain.
"The numbers are adjusted seasonally, but even within the seasonal adjustment there is a trend within fall months that we see a higher increase in employment growth," Mr. Cater said, citing hiring by educational institutions as a primary mover.
Further, Cater said, a falling number of people are eligible for unemployment benefits, further lowering claims.
"We have, over time, a declining number of people who are are not covered under unemployment insurance," he said.
Fewer layoffs in the trade, manufacturing, and service industries helped 21 states report a decrease of more than 1,000 initial claims, including Texas (4,623 fewer claims), Illinois (4,217 fewer) and Pennsylvania (3,961 fewer). Michigan and Ohio, both having seen significant job losses in the automotive sector, also saw claims fall. Only one state, Wisconsin, saw an increase of more than 1,000 initial claims.
"It’s not time to break out champaign and balloons," Cater said. "But it certainly suggests that we have bottomed out and that we are beginning to show that employers are holding, not letting go of, as many people."