Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits

September 22, 2011 - 8:40 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week, though the decline isn't enough to signal improvement in the job market.

The Labor Department says weekly applications dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 423,000. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, rose slightly for the fifth straight week to 421,000.

Applications are at about the same level as they were four weeks ago. Applications typically need to fall below 375,000 to significantly lower the unemployment rate. They haven't been that low since February.

The upward trend in unemployment benefit applications could signal that employers are starting to lay off workers amid growing worries that the economy has weakened. Still, economists say the main problem is that there are few jobs for the 14 million people who are unemployed.