As we await Friday's much-anticipated report about the February unemployment rate and how many jobs were added to employers' payrolls last month, there are these new bits of economic data to chew over:
— The Employment and Training Administration says there were 340,000 first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week. That's down from 7,000 the previous week. Claims continue at a pace that's the lowest since first-quarter 2008.
— Employers announced plans for 55,356 layoffs in February, according to outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That's up 37 percent from January and 7 percent from February 2012. But the 95,786 layoffs announced so far in 2013 are a 9 percent decline from the same two months a year earlier.
— American workers' productivity decreased at a 1.9 percent annual rate in fourth-quarter 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
As for Friday's report, Reuters says economists expect to hear that "the economy added 160,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate held at 7.9 percent."