Initial jobless claims take a dive

The number of people in the U.S. filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits declined sharply last week, offering a promising sign for the economy. 

Initial claims for the week ending Oct. 6 dropped to 339,000, a decrease of 30,000 and the lowest figure since February 2008 – roughly seven months before that year’s financial crisis broke. 

But the Labor Department also said that one large state had accounted for the lion's share of the overall decline, according to wire reports. The name of that state was not released. 

Given the discrepancy, it is possible this week's claims could be artificially low and could rise the following week. 

The newest claims figures also came in well below expectations, with analysts projecting anywhere from 355,000 to 377,000 claims for unemployment. 

The four-week average of claims, considered a less volatile measure, fell to 364,000, a drop of 11,500. Economists generally say that the job market is healthy if claims stay at or below 375,000.

The newest claims figures from the Labor Department come less than a week after the government reported that the economy added 114,000 jobs in September – and that the jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent. 

That’s the first time the rate fell below 8 percent since January 2009, the same month President Obama was inaugurated.

The job data could provide a boost to Obama in an election that has centered on the economy, though Friday's monthly report won less attention from the political world than last week's debate, which Obama was seen to have lost badly to GOP nominee Mitt Romney. 

Obama and Romney are locked in a tight race for the White House, with several polls showing Romney gaining in swing states and ahead nationally since the debate. 

According to media reports, Labor Department officials have counseled that initial claims reports can be more unpredictable than usual at the start of a new calendar quarter. The latest quarter, the first of fiscal 2013, started on Oct. 1.

Unadjusted claims for benefits are expected to increase at the start of a quarter, but the government data showed a smaller rise than usual. 

That could all mean that next week's claims report could show some sort of correction, and underscores why analysts consider the four-week rolling average less volatile.

This story was posted at 9:04 a.m. and updated at 12:31 p.m.