Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Amid Post-Holiday Adjustments

  • Four-week average exceeded 280,000 for a third straight time
  • Claims still near level consistent with improving job market

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose last week as employers continued to adjust staffing levels following the holidays.

Jobless claims climbed by 8,000 to 285,000 in the week ended Jan. 30, from a revised 277,000 in the prior period, a report from the Labor Department showed on Thursday. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 278,000. The four-week average exceeded 280,000 for a third consecutive week, indicating the pace of firings has sped up a bit from historically low levels.

While the uptick in claims bears watching, it may also represents the week-to-week volatility common to claims data around holidays, economists said. Other recent reports show employers are holding on to existing staff and are still adding workers as they anticipate sales will improve.

“Claims seem to be in an upward drift toward 300,000,” said Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit. “The labor market is solid but not as strong as it was earlier. I certainly wouldn’t extrapolate from it that the economy is headed toward a recession.”

One state, Oklahoma, estimated data for jobless claims last week because of a glitch in its computer system. Otherwise, there was nothing unusual in the figures, a Labor Department spokesman said as the report was released.

Survey Results

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for weekly jobless claims ranged from 265,000 to 295,000. The previous week’s figure was initially reported as 278,000.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly claims numbers, increased to 284,750 last week from 282,750. The last time the average exceeding 280,000 for at least three consecutive weeks was in April.

The number of applications dropped as low as 255,000 in mid-July, the lowest in four decades.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits fell by 18,000 to 2.26 million in the week ended Jan. 23. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.7 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Since early March, claims have been below the 300,000 level that economists say is typically consistent with an improving job market.

ADP Data

Recent data indicate ongoing progress in the job market. Companies hired 205,000 workers in January after a 267,000 gain in December, the ADP Research Institute reported Wednesday.

The national payrolls report, due Friday from the Labor Department, may show employers took on 190,000 workers last month after a jump of 292,000 in December, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey. The unemployment rate probably held at 5 percent, matching the lowest since 2008.

Federal Reserve policy makers, who left the benchmark rate unchanged last month after raising it from zero in December, said labor market conditions have improved further. They still expect to raise borrowing costs at a gradual pace and are monitoring the fallout on the U.S. from the rout in financial markets and a slowdown in overseas economies.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings, and a sustained low level of applications has typically coincided with faster job gains. Many layoffs may also reflect company- or industry-specific causes, such as cost-cutting or business restructuring, rather than underlying labor market trends.

(Adds economist comment in the fourth paragraph.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE