New requests for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, the first decline in a month, and a hopeful sign after an onslaught of negative economic reports. New claims for jobless aid dropped by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Still, claims remain much higher than they would be in a healthy economy. Jobless claims fell steadily last year as the economy began expanding, dropping from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009 to about 460,000 at the beginning of this year. After fluctuating around that level for most of this year, claims started climbing again last month, dropping sharply in the last four weeks. There is some good news mixed in with the bad news, which just seems to keep on coming.
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