Filings for initial jobless claims dropped to 730,000, the lowest weekly level since late November

The number of workers seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, adding to signs that the job market could be stabilizing after layoffs edged higher earlier in the winter.

Initial weekly unemployment claims decreased by 111,000 to a seasonally adjusted 730,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the lowest weekly level of new applications to regular state programs since late November and the biggest weekly drop since last summer.

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However, the latest figures came as storms disrupted business in parts of the country and at least one state appeared to adjust for attempted fraud filings, factors that could have thrown off the totals.

Claims fell significantly in Ohio last week after a large increase earlier in the month that state officials said was likely attempted fraud. And storms and frigid temperatures in Texas and elsewhere caused widespread power outages and disruptions.

“The drop may be signaling a turning point for labor market conditions,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, economist at Oxford Economics. “However the data continue to suffer from noise related to issues of backlogs and fraud. We expect a more sustainable labor market recovery to take hold closer to mid-year.”

Jobless claims figures can be volatile from week to week. The four-week moving average, which helps smooth those variations, fell to 807,750 last week, the lowest reading since early December. The recent level of applications is well down a peak of near 7 million last spring. After trending down for months, claims edged higher earlier in the winter. Read more at WSJ