jobsWorkers seeking unemployment benefits for the week ending February 23 declined by 22,000 ending in a total of 344,000 claims, offering continued support for the idea that the job market is gradually improving. The less volatile four-week average also fell by 6,750 to reach 355,000. Economists expect economic growth in 2013 partially due to stronger hiring, especially compared to the weak fourth quarter of 2012. The number of weekly applications also tends to suggest number of layoffs indicating that companies may be dropping fewer workers and are more willing to hire new staff.

Since November 2012, the four-week average has declined by a rate of about 11 percent while employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month through January; up from 150,000 jobs for the prior three-month period. Reports also show that Americans are gaining confidence in the economy as more buy new homes, house prices rise, and banks are lending more money. However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the recent mandatory spending cuts will slow economic growth, cost 700,000 jobs, and decrease the amount of the average unemployment benefits check by about 11 percent.

Growth is expected to even out at a rate near 2 percent for Q1 2013, a much improved rate over the near stagnant economy of Q4 2012 but slightly below the 2.2 percent growth experienced over 2012. Almost 5.8 million individuals received unemployment aid for the week ending February 9, up about 180,000 over the prior week. But that number has fallen from 7.5 million a year ago, due in part to recipients finding jobs or exhausting their available benefits.

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