Friday May 4, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week by the most in nearly a year. The figure was a hopeful sign that hiring could pick up in coming months.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 27,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 365,000.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall below 375,000, it generally suggests that hiring will be strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Last month, applications jumped after steadily declining since the fall. At the same time, hiring slowed. Those figures sparked concerns that the job market was worsening after strong gains during the winter.

But some economists said temporary layoffs stemming from spring holidays might have inflated benefit applications. Some school employees, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, are temporarily laid off at that time and can apply for benefits.

Last week’s drop reversed the increase during April. Applica tions are now roughly back at their level four weeks ago.

"These data are consistent with the notion that while the labor market is not as robust as December-February data suggested, neither is it in the process of falling apart," said Joshua Shapiro, an economist at MFR Inc., in a note to clients.

Other recent data have been mixed. A survey by payroll provider ADP, released Wednes day, said businesses sharply cut back on hiring in April.

A report earlier this week showed that the economy’s manufacturing sector expanded at the fastest pace in 10 months. Measures of new orders, production and exports rose. And a gauge of employment reached its highest level in 10 months.

Today, analysts expect the government to report that employers added 163,000 jobs in April, while the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent. That would be an improvement from March, when job growth slowed to just 120,000. But it would be below the average of 246,000 jobs a month added from December through February.

Thursday’s report on unemployment applications will have no direct effect on today’s report on hiring in April. The government calculates job creation by surveying companies during one week in the middle of each month.