Jobless claims across the U.S. fell by 6,000 filings with the country recording 357,000 unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 31. That is down from the previous week's revised figure of 363,000, the Department of Labor said Thursday.

Planned job cuts also fell 27% in March when compared to February, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported. 

Based on the most recent government data, the total number of people filing claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 17 hit 7.1 million, down 107,760 claims from the previous week, the Labor Department said. 

And for the weeklong survey period ending March 24, the states with the largest increases in initial unemployment claims included Texas (with 4,185 claims); California (2,199 claims); Kansas (1,555); Arkansas (1,141) and Washington (714).

In all, there were 23,794 former federal civilian employees claiming unemployment insurance benefits for the week ending March 17, a decline from 1,647 filings the previous week. Newly discharged veterans also recorded 41,670 claims, down 63 filings from the previous week, according to government data.

The jobless claims report arrived on the same day as the Challenger, Gray & Christmas layoff study. The Challenger report shows planned layoffs fell 27% in March as U.S. employers cut 37,880 positions, down from 51,728 cuts in February.

Compared to March of 2011, planned job cuts are down 9% from last year's total of 41,528 layoffs. 

The March job cuts figure is the lowest monthly total since last May when employers slashed 37,135 positions. The report comes at a time when analysts are disputing the true strength of the job market and the overall American economy.

Stronger employment numbers are needed to boost confidence across the markets, especially in real estate and mortgage lending where consumers are more likely to stay on the sidelines due to economic uncertainty.

But the true strength of the nation's job market is in dispute. Research firm TrimTabs Investment Research believes the U.S. economy added only 187,000 jobs in March, a figure that is likely to be well below projected government estimates of 200,000 new jobs in March.

"The real-time data supports our view that the U.S. economy is stuck in slow-growth mode," wrote Madeline Schnapp, director of macroeconomic research at TrimTabs.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted that most of the job cuts in March occurred in the telecommunications sector where 4,089 jobs were lost. The cuts resulted from the consolidation of T-Mobile call centers and the closing of a Verizon Wireless call center that resulted in 750 job cuts. In addition, Wells Fargo ($33.88 0%) and online retailer QVCslashed call center jobs, laying off 685 workers.

The consumer products segment year-to-date recorded the most layoffs with 18,438 positions cut just this year, up four times from the same period last year. Transportation jobs also faced scrutiny in the first three months of the year with employers announcing 17,051 cuts, compared to 2,547 cuts a year earlier.

"Both consumer products and transportation saw fewer job cuts in March after experiencing heavy cuts in February. These are key indicators of the economy’s health, so they will be closely monitored in the coming months for more signs of distress. The hope is that the February surge in these sectors was not indicative of a trend," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Meanwhile, the government sector is faring much better with only 5,750 jobs cut in the first three months of 2012, down 86% from the first quarter of 2011 when 41,929 layoffs were announced. 

kpanchuk@housingwire.com