Washington, D.C. The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits fell last week for the fourth time in five weeks, a sign that layoffs are declining.
Initial claims for jobless aid dropped by 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 445,000. It's the lowest level since the week ending July 10 and down from 504,000 initial claims in mid-August -- the high point for the year.
Economists were mildly encouraged by the drop. But they also pointed out that claims remain at an elevated level consistent with weak job growth. Employers aren't hiring enough to bring down the 9.6% unemployment rate.
In a separate report, the department said job openings rose in August for the second straight month to 3.2 million. Private sector openings increased to their highest level in 21 months, which could bode well for future hiring.
The department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey also said that private-sector layoffs plummeted to 1.6 million in August, the lowest monthly total in more than four years.