U.S. jobless claims up, but still trending down

By Reuters
Posted Jan. 6 at 7:46 a.m.

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but a decline in the four-week average to a fresh low in more than two years indicated the labor market improvement remained intact.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 409,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday, above economists’ expectations for 400,000. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 391,000 from the previously reported 388,000.

The data falls outside the survey period for the government’s closely watched employment report for December. The government is expected to report on Friday that nonfarm payrolls increased 175,000 last month after November’s surprisingly small 39,000 gain.

The unemployment rate is expected to have edged down to 9.7 percent from 9.8 percent in November.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and noted that the long-term trend in jobless claims remained to the downside.

The four-week moving average of unemployment claims — a better measure of underlying trends, fell 3,500 to 410,750, the lowest level since late July 2008.

The spike in weekly claims does little to change perceptions the economy is now on a sustainable growth path, as flagged by sturdy data on consumer spending, trade and manufacturing.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 47,000 to 4.10 million in the week ended Dec. 25. That was in line with market expectations, and the prior week’s number for the so-called continuing claims was revised up to 4.15 million from 4.13 million.

The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits fell 133,625 to 3.58 million in the week ended Dec. 18, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 8.77 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.

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