The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, indicating the jobs market continues to gradually recover.
Initial jobless claims fell by 6,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 388,000 in the week ended March 26, the Labor Department said Thursday in its weekly report.
The state-by-state breakdown of new claims, which is also reported with a one-week lag, showed that Illinois had the largest drop in claims — 2,696 — because of fewer layoffs in the construction, service and manufacturing industries. North Carolina reported the largest increase in claims with a gain of 974.
The prior week’s national figures were revised up to 394,000 from an originally reported 382,000. Claims data going back to 2006 were revised after the Labor Department Thursday unveiled new seasonal factors used to calculate the data. The government revisions caused a slight increase in jobless claims compared to figures reported previously.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast claims would fall by 2,000 in the latest week.
The four-week moving average of new claims, considered a more reliable indicator because it smoothes out volatile weekly data, rose by 3,250, to 394,250 in the week ending March 26.
Since mid-February, claims have been close to or less than 400,000, widely considered the point at which the economy is gaining more jobs than it’s shedding.
Strong hiring in February pushed the U.S. unemployment rate down to 8.9 percent, the lowest level in nearly two years. Private-sector payrolls expanded at a solid pace this month, according to a report out Wednesday, suggesting the employment report due Friday will show continued job gains. Still, the hole caused by the 2008-2009 recession was so deep that most economists expect the unemployment rate to remain close to 9.0 percent until the end of the year.
The Labor Department said in Thursday’s report that the number of continuing claims — those drawn by workers for more than a week – dropped by 51,000, to 3.71 million, in the week ended March 19. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.
The unemployment rate for workers with unemployment insurance was 3.0 percent in the week ending March 19, unchanged from the previous week.
A Labor Department economist said there was nothing unusual in the latest figures.