Applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly increased last week to the highest level since February 2015 as filings surged in New York.
Initial jobless claims rose by 20,000 to 294,000 in the week ended May 7, a report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decline to 270,000.
A jump in filings in New York state may reflect striking workers at Verizon Communications Inc., spring break holiday at schools or a combination of the two. Economists will continue to monitor claims data in the coming weeks before concluding that the labor market is taking a bigger step back.
“New York accounted for most of the increase,” said Jacob Oubina, a senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets LLC in New York. “It’s not a clean read.”
For 62 consecutive weeks claims have been below the 300,000 level that economists say is typically consistent with an improving job market. That’s the longest stretch since 1973. Applications in the previous week were unrevised at 274,000.
No states estimated filings for jobless benefits last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.
In New York, jobless claims jumped by 14,647 last week, accounting for most of the 18,389 increase in applications prior to seasonal adjustment . Smaller increases were reported in Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Oubina zeroed in on the strike at Verizon as a reason. About 40,000 employees walked off the job at the New York-based company on April 13.
Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, said that probably wasn’t the reason, instead pointing to the closing of schools for the spring recess in New York, which he says always leads to a jump in claims.
Yet other economists said an early Easter and weather could be playing a role in the surge. That means that economists will be tracking the more smoothed four-week moving average of claims, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures. That figured increased to 268,250 from 258,000.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 37,000 in the week ended April 30, the biggest increase since the end of November, to 2.16 million. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.6 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings, and a sustained low level of applications has typically coincided with faster job gains. Layoffs can also reflect company- or industry-specific causes, such as cost-cutting or business restructuring.
A report last week showed that U.S. employers added 160,000 workers to their payrolls in April, the fewest since September and well below economists’ median forecast.
Another report from the Labor Department showed import prices rose 0.3 percent for a second month in April, largely reflecting a pickup in petroleum and food. While industrial supply costs increased, prices declined for consumer and capital goods made overseas.