The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level in more than nine months, a sign harsh winter weather may be stalling the job market’s progress.
Jobless claims increased by 7,000 to 320,000 in the week ended Feb. 28, the most since May, from 313,000 in the prior period, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 52 economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected claims of 295,000.
Snowfall in parts of the country may have caused some workers to have been temporarily dismissed, leading to the increase in filings. A report tomorrow may show employers added 235,000 workers in February, while the unemployment rate is expected to drop to 5.6 percent, matching a more than six-year low.
“It’s really the weather, I wouldn’t go crazy about it,” said Brian Jones, a senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, who forecast 325,000 claims. “There were some storms in the second half of February that hit a variety of areas in the United States, and if people can’t work, they file. Anybody who’s involved in doing anything outdoors and they’re unable to work, they’re going to file paperwork.”
Stock-index futures trimmed earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing this month rose 0.2 percent to 2,100.8 at 9:09 a.m. in New York.
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of economists ranged from 280,000 to 325,000.
There was nothing unusual in the state data, according to the report.
Details for the prior week already indicated inclement weather was one reason behind the jump. Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island either specifically mentioned weather as a reason why applications climbed in the week ended Feb. 21 or said workers in construction were among those filing, the industry that is often most affected by snowy conditions.
“Last week was much colder than usual, with more than twice the snowfall of the previous week,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd. in Newcastle, U.K., said in a research note. “This week too has seen significant snow in the eastern half of the country, so claims likely won’t revert to trend, which is about 290,000, for another couple of weeks.”
Government offices in Washington were closed on Thursday as a storm was projected to dump as much as eight inches (20.3 centimeters) of snow on the city.
The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, climbed to 304,750 from 294,500 the week before.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits increased by 17,000 to 2.42 million in the week ended Feb. 21.
In that same period, the unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.8 percent, the report showed.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically decrease before job growth can accelerate. Many layoffs now reflect company- or industry-specific causes, such as cost-cutting or business restructuring.
Energy companies are at the forefront of recent firing announcements following the plunge in fuel prices. WPX Energy is eliminating 8 percent of its workforce, with 83 employees being affected, as the prices of natural gas and crude oil drop, the company said in a March 2 statement. The company drills for energy sources in North Dakota, New Mexico and Colorado, operating more than 5,800 wells in those areas.
The Labor Department’s employment report is due Friday at 8:30 a.m. New York time. The economy has so far logged 11 straight months of job gains of 200,000 or more, the best streak since a 19-month stretch that ended March 1995.