Ray of Hope? Jobless Claims Fall Slightly

Weekly stats show that the number of jobless people has declined, albeit slightly.
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For the first time in five months, the number of Americans taking unemployment insurance decreased, and the rate of new jobless claims slowed, according to statistics released by the Labor Department Thursday.

Though the declines perhaps offer a ray of hope, they were nonetheless miniscule. The total number of out-of-work people collecting weekly benefits slipped by just 15,000 to 6.7 million. Early January was the last time that number fell.

First-time claimants for the week declined by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 621,000.

The government report also showed that worker productivity increased as companies have been forced to do more with less.

On Friday, the Labor Department is slated to release its May jobs report, which experts expect to show 520,000 newly laid off workers.

Indeed, the chain of corporate layoff announcements remains unbroken, though perhaps the sheer size of the cuts has diminished. Just this past week, the big mutual fund operator

Capital Group

, parent of the

American Funds

, laid off 820 people and

Principal Financial

(PFG) - Get Report

announced 220 job cuts.

Southwest Airlines

(LUV) - Get Report

, in a contract dispute with its pilots and dealing with a third-straight quarter of losses, said it might consider forced layoffs.

Textron's

(TXT) - Get Report

Cessna unit may go through another round of job cuts, in addition to the 6,900 it's already announced. And a bankrupt

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

, meanwhile, is expected to shed 21,000 workers during its Chapter 11 workout.

At least one corporate behemoth, however, is hiring: in a bid to take further market share,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

today announced plans to add more than 20,000 workers.

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