WASHINGTON -- Initial claims for unemployment benefits posted their fourth straight big decline last week to their lowest level since early October as the impact of Superstorm Sandy on the jobs market continued to dissipate.
There were 343,000 new jobless claims in the week that ended Saturday, down 29,000 from the previous week's revised level, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The drop was larger than economists had forecast.
The less-volatile four-week average also dropped, to 381,500 from the previous week's reading of 408,500.
Initial unemployment claims are now back to about the same level they were before Sandy hit the Northeast on Oct. 29-30. Economists say that claims below about 350,000 a week are consistent with strong jobs growth.
The economy added 146,000 new jobs in November as the economy weathered Sandy's impact better than expected. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.7%, but its continued high level triggered new efforts announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve to bring it down.
Sandy didn't help the jobs market. After the storm struck, jobless claims shot up to 451,000 in mid-November, the highest level in more than a year and a half.
Claims jumped by 43,956 in New York, 31,094 in New Jersey, 7,037 in Pennsylvania and 1,808 in Connecticut as the storm caused layoffs in construction, transportation and several other sectors.
Those impacts have been lessening over the past month.
For the week that ended Nov. 24, the latest state-level figures available, Pennsylvania had an increase of 14,636 jobless claims and New York had 11,025, though it's unclear how many of those were storm-related.
California had the biggest increase that week, 24,411. But the Labor Department said that was because of a backlog from the previous week, when state offices were closed because of Thanksgiving.
ALSO:Twitter and Google+.