Weekly jobless claims

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People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair in Los Angeles.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week, but the underlying trend remained consistent with solid labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 219,000 for the week ended Feb. 22, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims increasing to 212,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for Alabama were estimated last week.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 500 to 209,750 last week.

Sustained labor market strength suggests the longest economic expansion on record, now in its 11th year, remains on track. Investors have been rattled by fears that the coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,000 people, mostly in China, and spread to other countries, would undercut global and U.S. economic growth. Risky assets such as stocks have been sold off in favor of safe-haven government bonds.

Money markets have raised their bets on the prospect of more Federal Reserve cuts. The U.S. central bank cut rates three times last year and has signaled its intention to keep monetary policy on hold at least through 2020.

The economy created 225,000 jobs in January. While the unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.6% last month, that was because more people entered the labor force, a sign of confidence in the labor market.

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 9,000 to 1.72 million for the week ended Feb. 15. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 5,250 to 1.73 million.

The continuing claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed households for February’s unemployment rate. The four-week average of continuing claims fell between the January and February household survey weeks, suggesting some improvement in the unemployment rate.

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