Jobless Claims Lowest Since October 2000

By Roch Hammond | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell by 39,000 last week to 310,000.

The U.S. has created 1.3 million jobs thus far in 2004, the biggest six-month gain in employment since December 1999 to May 2000, but economists expect even greater employment gains in the next several months.

The U.S. lost an average of 5,000 jobs a month last year when the unemployment rate peaked at an 11-year high of 6.3 percent. The current unemployment rate stands at 5.6 percent.

But AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said the jobs market isn't as good as the Bush administration claims.

Sweeney noted that the manufacturing sector has lost 11,000 jobs in the past week and said that the jobs being created are "Wal-Mart type jobs that cannot build and sustain a strong economy and a healthy middle class."

"Americans need good jobs with health care benefits to support their families and wages that allow them to pay for basic necessities," said Sweeney, adding that the president's economic policies hurt "working America.""

Bush's economic policies "have left working America behind," Sweeney asserted. "He has rewarded corporations for sending good jobs overseas and given tax breaks to the rich at the expense of working people."

Dr. Martin A. Regalia, chief economist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the economic data released Thursday "confirms what we've known all along, that the economy is improving and creating new jobs."

Regalia contradicted Sweeney's assessment and those of organizations like the Democratic National Committee and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). The liberal groups insist that the improving economy is only creating low-quality, low-wage jobs and that manufacturing jobs have been decimated.

"The job growth has been in industries [in which], on average, 80 percent of the jobs that are being created [have] average income[s] ... greater than the median income," Regalia said...I don't understand where the AFL-CIO, the UAW, or anybody else is coming from."

Regalia also addressed Sweeney's point that thousands of manufacturing jobs continue to be lost.

"[T]here was a decline in manufacturing employment after three months of positive gains ... not totally unexpected. You often times see numbers go up and down within an overall expansion," Regalia said. "[Employment numbers] don't go up and up and up consistently," he said.

"What this tells you is that 112,000 (the number of new jobs created in June) was probably not a new trend being set. It was probably more of a blip around the existing trend, which is still for even more jobs to be created," Regalia added.

He added that groups talking down the positive data are the people who bank their political and economic future on bad news.

"Every survey I've seen from big business and small business suggests that they are in a hiring mood ... If you bank your political or economic future on an economy that is getting worse and worse and worse, then you're not happy right now," Regalia said.

Many employers are also reporting greater profits.

Rising profits help employers afford new workers in order to satisfy increasing consumer demand.

According to a quarterly survey conducted by the National Association for Business Economics, a greater percentage of U.S. companies saw wider profit margins in the quarter ending June 30.

The survey found that 41 percent of the companies that responded plan to increase hiring in the next six months. The survey also found in April that 34 percent of responding employers planned to increase hiring.

The Democratic National Committee and the U.S. Department of Labor did not return several phone calls requesting comment for this article. The United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) declined to comment.

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