Initial Jobless Claims Beat Estimates Again in Week Ended March 16, Hold at Five-Year Lows

Andrew Klips  |

The number of U.S. citizens applying for first-time jobless benefits rose slightly in the week ended March 16, according to the latest weekly report from the Labor Department on Thursday, but still not as much as economist had forecast, giving additional signs that employers are retaining their staffs.

The report from the federal agency showed that initial jobless claims, a measure of people newly laid-off, edged upward by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000 from the upwardly revised 334,000 the week prior (revised up from 332,000). Economists were expecting the report to show 340,000 new claims this past week.

The Labor Department said that no unusual data was found in the surveys and that no states were estimated for the week.

Meanwhile, the four-week moving average, a less volatile figure that is regarded as a better gauge of overall labor trends, dropped to its lowest level since February 2008, decreasing by 7,500 to 339,750 from a revised average of 347,250 (revised upward from an original estimate of 346,750).

The latest week marks the fifth consecutive with new claims totaling under 350,000. That’s the longest string since 2007, right before the “Great Recession” began and the markets collapsed.

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The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending March 2 was 5.369 million , a decrease of 250,853 from the previous week. That figure is substantially lower than the 7.285 million persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2012.

Georgia led all states in the largest increase in initial claims with 1,678, followed by Florida with 802. New York paced the decliners with 7,248 fewer claims, followed by California with 6,189 less people asking for benefits.

The labor market continuing to show strength in 2013 has come as a bit of a surprise as most economists expected employers to thin headcount because of increased taxes that have gone into effect, tacking on 2 percent to tax bills each week. Thursday report echoes the sentiment of the Federal Reserve commentary on Wednesday that the labor market is showing regular signs of improving.

The Fed said that it was continuing its $85 billion-per-month bond buying program to try and continue to spur the economy and drive unemployment lower. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the programs would stay in place until the Federal Reserve was confident that this wasn’t simply a “temporary improvement.”

The markets aren’t responding to the positive jobs data. Halfway through the day the Dow is off by 44 points, the S&P 500 is down 6 points and the Nasdaq is lower by 22 points.

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