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Dec 31, 2009 9:07 AM by Associated Press

New jobless claims last week: 432,000

The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, a sign the job market is healing as the economy slowly recovers.

The Labor Department says that new claims for unemployment insurance fell by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000, the lowest since July 2008. That's much better than the rise to 460,000 that Wall Street economists expected.

The number of jobless workers continuing to claim benefits dropped by 57,000 to 4.9 million, also better than the increase that analysts expected.

Economists closely monitor initial claims, which are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers.

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