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The Associated Press May 20, 2010, 6:29AM ET

Ahead of the Bell: Jobless Claims

Economists believe that the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits fell for a fifth consecutive week.

Analysts survey by Thomson Reuters expect total applications for jobless benefits will show a drop to 440,000, down from 444,000 last week.

A small decrease such as that would indicate the job market is improving, but at a very slow pace.

Employers are hiring again, but not at the levels needed to make a dint in the unemployment rate. The jobless rate for April actually went up as an improving economy is luring people who had given up looking for work back into the labor market.

The April jobless rate jumped to 9.9 percent from 9.7 percent, where it had been for the previous three months.

The Federal Reserve released an updated economic outlook on Wednesday with Fed officials forecasting a slightly brighter economic picture this year than they did in January.

The new Fed forecast, prepared at the central bank's April meeting on interest rates, has the unemployment rate improving at a slow pace, falling only to between 9.1 percent and 9.5 percent by year's end.

In its previous forecast in January, the Fed didn't think the unemployment rate would dip below 9.5 percent this year.

After dropping steadily from a peak of 651,000 last year, first-time jobless claims have fluctuated around 450,000 since January.

The government reported that employers added 290,000 jobs in April, the most in four years, but much more hiring will be needed to make up for the loss of more than 8 million during in the recession.

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