While some hope it signals a possibility that companies will step up hiring, others say the number -- which has fluctuated wildly the last few weeks -- may be a sign of how weather has played havoc with people's normal routines this winter.
Applications sank by a seasonally adjusted 36,000 to 383,000, the lowest point since early July 2008. Unemployment applications reflect the level of layoffs, but also can indicate whether companies are willing to hire.
Just one day earlier in sobering testimony to Congress, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the jobless rate in America may remain high for up to five years.
Applications below 425,000 tend to signal modest job growth. But they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant and steady decline in the unemployment rate.
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