NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The line of first-time applicants for state unemployment benefits got a bit shorter last week, in yet another clue that layoffs have stalled. Initial jobless claims fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 for the week ended March 13, according to the Labor Department. The consensus analyst forecast from Briefing.com was a fall to 455,000 from 462,000 in the week before. The four-week moving average for initial claims, which gives a move holistic view of claims data beyond tumultuous weekly fluctuations, also dropped by 4,250 to 471,250. But the number of those continuing to apply for unemployment insurance edged higher for the week ending March 6, increasing by 12,000 to 4.579 million.
The nation's labor market has been on the minds of lawmakers and central bankers this week. On Wednesday, an $18 billion jobs bill got final approval from Congress and is on its way to the Oval Office for the president's signature, largely in response to the nation's 9.7% unemployment rate and continued lack of progress on jobs creation. While firms may be shedding fewer jobs, employment growth remains elusive. To incentivize hiring, the bill will give employers a reprieve from paying a 6.2% Social Security payroll tax on new hires for rest of 2010, while also offering firms a $1,000 tax credit for new workers who stay on the job for a whole year. The measure passed in a 68-29 vote in the Senate and garnered support from 11 Republicans. The bill also includes an extension on federal highway funds. The Federal Open Market Committee released a statement earlier this week indicating stabilization in the labor market. Still, the Federal Reserve's policy-making arm tempered those observations in noting constrained spending resulting from high unemployment. Premarket futures indicated a slightly higher open for stocks after release of the claims data and a separate report said consumer inflation was kept in check. -- Written by Sung Moss in New York