US Jobless Claims Fall
US Jobless Claims Fall

The number of newly-laid off Americans has fallen to the lowest level in a year and a half, the latest sign the U.S. job market is on the mend. 

The Labor Department reports new unemployment claims totaled 432,000 last week, down 22,000 from the previous week.  That is the lowest figure since July, 2008, and a significant reduction from the nearly 700,000 jobs that were being lost each week during the worst stretch of the economic recession in early 2009.

Global Insight economist Nigel Gault says unemployment is easing.

"The trend is clear," Gault said. "It is well established now, and the [unemployment] trend is down.  We are now roughly in the zone which is consistent with the economy just beginning to add jobs."

Not only are new job losses down, but the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits has also dropped by 57,000.  If the trend continues, the number of jobs created will outpace job losses, and U.S. unemployment, which stands at a 26-year high of 10 percent, will decline, according to Nigel Gault.

"We can look forward to 2010 with a lot more confidence that some of those jobs are going to come back," Gault said. "They are not all going to come back quickly and maybe some of them will never come back.  But we are going to start creating jobs."

The federal government will issue its next unemployment reading next week.

The improved unemployment numbers follow reports of a boost in U.S. consumer confidence and indications that American retailers fared better during the economically-critical holiday shopping season than had been anticipated.