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U.S. jobless claims unchanged at 351,000

Friday, 24 February 2012 | 11:00
New applications for unemployment benefits were unchanged last week, government data showed Thursday, but they remained at a level consistent with an improved U.S. jobs market.
The Labor Department said initial claims were flat at a seasonally adjusted 351,000. The level of claims is a gauge of whether layoffs are rising or falling.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had estimated claims would increase to 353,000 in the week ended Feb. 18. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 351,000 from 348,000.
The four-week average of claims, meanwhile, fell by 7,000 to 359,000, marking the lowest level since March 2008. The monthly average provides a more accurate view of labor-market trends by reducing week-to-week gyrations caused by seasonal quirks.
Hiring is generally viewed as on the rise when applications for jobless benefits drop below 400,000. New applications for jobless benefits have fallen under that mark in all but two weeks over the last four months.
Yet the relationship between hiring and weekly claims, which rarely fall below 300,000 even in the best of times, is imprecise. Other data such as the monthly employment report provide a clearer picture of who’s hiring and who’s not.
Whatever the case, the U.S. economy still isn’t adding jobs at a pace fast enough to repair most of the damage caused by the 2007-2009 recession.
While unemployment has declined from a 2011 peak of 9.1%, it’s still quite high at 8.3%. It’s an even sharper 15% when including part-time employees who cannot find a full-time job and those who recently stopped looking for work.
At the current rate of hiring, the U.S. 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 52,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.39 million in the week ended Feb. 11. Continuing claims, which are handled by the states and typically last 26 weeks, are reported with a one-week lag.
The number of people who received extended federal benefits fell by 68,966 to 3.41 million. President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a bill that continues extended benefits until the end of the year.
These benefits, first enacted during the last recession, provide extra cash to unemployed workers who cannot find jobs before their state benefits run out.
Yet the new extension lowers the maximum amount of time people can receive extra federal benefits to no more than 73 weeks, down from 99 under prior law.
About 7.50 million people received some kind of state or federal benefit in the week ended Feb. 4, down 178,619 from the prior week. Total claims are reported with a two-week lag and are not seasonally adjusted.
Source: MarketWatch
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