U.S. jobless claims little changed at 351,000
Friday, 02 March 2012 | 11:00
New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits were barely changed last week and appear to have settled in a range consistent with modest hiring trends.
The Labor Department said on Thursday that initial claims fell by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000 in the week ended Feb. 25. The level of claims is an indicator of whether layoffs are rising or falling.
Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 353,000 from 351,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had estimated claims would fall to 350,000.
The four-week average of claims, meanwhile, dropped 5,500 to 354,000, keeping it at a four-year low. The monthly average provides a more accurate view of labor-market trends by reducing week-to-week gyrations caused by seasonal quirks.
“The current smoothed level of 354K points to solid gains in nonfarm payrolls on a trend basis, although there is certainly no guarantee that this relationship works in lock-step every month,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR.
Hiring usually picks up when applications for jobless benefits drop below 400,000, based on historical patterns. New applications for jobless benefits have fallen under that mark in 15 of the past 17 weeks.
Yet the relationship between hiring and weekly claims, which seldom drop below 300,000 even in the best of times, is far from exact. Other data such as the monthly employment report provide a much clearer picture of hiring trends.
The latest MarketWatch forecast estimates that 208,000 jobs were created in February, keeping in line with recent trends. The government will issue the critical monthly employment report on March 9.
While companies have boosted employment, the U.S. still has a long way to go to undo the damage from the deep 2007-2009 recession. Nearly 6 million jobs that were lost during the downturn have not returned and the unemployment rate, though falling, is still high at 8.3%.
At the current rate of hiring, the jobless rate would not return to pre-recession levels for at least several years. Unemployment averaged 3.8% to 6.2% from 2001 to 2007.
Also Thursday, the Labor Department said continuing claims decreased by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.40 million in the week ended Feb. 18.
Continuing claims, which reflect people already receiving benefits, are handled by the states and typically last 26 weeks. The data are reported with a one-week lag.
About 7.50 million people received some kind of state or federal benefit in the week ended Feb. 11, up 11,933 from the prior week. Total claims are reported with a two-week lag and are not seasonally adjusted.