The number of people filing for first time unemployment benefits dropped slightly but continued deep in recessionary levels for the week ending November 1st, according to the US Department of Labor. Claims fell by 4,000, to 481,000, after an upwardly revised reading for the prior week. Economists were expecting 480,000 new claims for the week. Initial claims running consistently atop the 350,000 mark would signal some weakening in the labor market. Claims above 400,000 are seen by many as a signal of recession.

Having witnessed extremely volatile measurements in the past few weeks, it is wise to consider the four-week moving average of initial claims, which smooths out one-time factors such as bad weather or holidays. The four-week moving average was unchanged in the latest week, at 477,000.

All in a nutshell: Businesses are laying employees off at a faster pacer, and the unemployed are having a tougher time looking for a replacement job. A year ago, initial claims were at 324,000.

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