Initial claims for jobless insurance benefits plunged to their lowest level since September last year, according to official data on Nov. 25.
The seasonally adjusted number of new unemployment claims in the week ending November 21 decreased by 35,000 to 466,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 501,000, the Labor Department said.
It was much lower than the 500,000 expected by analysts and is the first time the four-week moving average has dipped below the half-million level since 2008 amid a combination of reduced layoffs and seasonal adjustment factors.
The four-week moving average, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, was 496,500, a decrease of 16,500 from the previous week's revised average of 513,000.
The total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits also fell.
The Labor Department's figures showed the number of seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending November 14 was 5.423 million, a decrease of 190,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 5.613 million.
Layoffs have been slowing since March, when initial claims peaked at 674,000.
"Businesses are becoming comfortable enough with the outlook to slow the number of layoffs, which has helped reduce initial claims below 500,000 for the first time in about a year," said economist Michael Bratus of Moody's Economy.com. "The continued improvement in initial claims bodes well for a more positive nonfarm payrolls report in November," he said, ahead of the key monthly unemployment data to be released on the first week of December.
The U.S. unemployment rate shot up to 10.2% in October as another 190,000 jobs were shed, the government said earlier this month.
The jobless rate was the highest since 1983 but the number of jobs lost narrowed to the lowest level in over a year.
In a new forecast accompanying minutes from the Federal Reserve's policy meeting earlier this month, the central bank said on Nov. 24 that participants anticipated gradual economic recovery from recession with the "unemployment rate declining slowly over the next few years." The forecast suggests that unemployment could ease in early 2010.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009