Following on the heels of yesterday's slightly encouraging kickoff to the earnings season , today the U.S. Labor Department released some hopeful weekly figures of its own.

According to the department, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits for the first time nose-dived by 52,000 last week. Initial claims figures dropped to 565,000, which is the lowest level since January. Analysts had forecast the number to come to 605,000.

The four-week moving average, which evens out the sometimes volatile week-to-week fluctuations, also fell by 10,000.

But there's clutter in the numbers too, as fewer automotive layoffs than seasonal adjustment tracking models had anticipated may have artificially pumped up the decline. Many automotive layoffs had already occurred earlier in the year.

Also, the announcement was coupled with a little reminder of current economic woes. The number of those continuing on unemployment benefit roles reached a record high, jumping by 159,000 to come to 6.88 million in the last full week in June.

Florida, the state with the largest drop in new claims, cited fewer layoffs in a slew of industries -- construction, trade, service, manufacturing and agriculture.

The state with the largest increase in first-time claims, New Jersey, added 7,876. The state largely blamed seasonal factors and school closings, along with layoffs in public administration, transportation, warehousing, service and manufacturing.

Last week, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate grew to 9.5% after employers slashed 467,000 jobs in June. Many are anticipating the rate to top 10% soon.

Just this morning, Monster Worldwide ( MWW) said it would cut 160 mostly domestic jobs.

On Monday, Comair, a regional airline unit of parent Delta Air Lines ( DAL) said in a memo that furloughs are coming after Delta announced plans to slash certain flights.

Even Alcoa's ( AA) results yesterday came after it announced plans to cut 13,500 jobs earlier in the year.
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