NEW YORK — The number of newly unemployed seeking jobless benefits fell more sharply than expected last week, according to the government's latest reading on the state of the labor market.
There were 350,000 filing for initial jobless claims in the week, down from the 362,000 who sought assistance a week earlier. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast 375,000 would be seeking help last week.
Those seeking assistance had spiked up in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, as many businesses in New York and New Jersey were forced to close temporarily due to damage or loss of power. But claims basically returned to pre-storm levels by early December.
The four-week moving average, which economists prefer to look at since it smooths out the volatility in the weekly numbers, fell by 11,250 to 356,750 last week, as the impact of the storm faded into the background.
The report also showed 3.2 million people filed claims for their second week or more of jobless benefits during the week ended Dec. 15, down 32,000 from the previous week.
Next week, the Labor Department reports how many jobs employers created in December. Economists are expecting a net gain of 150,000, nearly identical to the average monthly gain so far this year. The 1.7 million jobs added so far in 2012 has helped to lower the unemployment rate to 7.7% in November from 8.5% at the end of last year.