Jobless Claims Fall Back To Near 400,000

New claims for unemployment benefits by first-time filers fell last week to 404,000, a decrease of 37,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 441,000, the Department of Labor reported today.

The four-week moving average continued its slow decline, to 411,750, a 4,000 decrease from the prior week.

Economists say that any number of claims below 400,000 is a signifier of growth; sub-350,000 is an even stronger indicator of growth.

Jobless claims had fallen precipitously in the last weeks of 2010, dipping below 400,000 and giving marketwatchers something to cheer about, but much of that drop could have been due to the holiday season, which interferes with claims reporting.

For the week ended Jan. 1, the most recent week this type of data was available, 9.6 million Americans were receiving some form of unemployment assistance, including 3.7 million who had exhausted their regular state benefits and were receiving extended benefits from the federal government.