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U.S. Department of Labor/Catherine Brzycki, Medill

The number of American workers filing initial claims for unemployment benefits were low and steady in March, but claims  increased in April.


U.S. jobless-claim upturn raises questions

by Catherine Brzycki
Apr 18, 2013


The number of American workers filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits showed a worse-than-expected increase last week, but a number of economists suggested the downbeat report doesn’t necessarily signal a softening labor market.

Initial jobless claims rose by 4,000 to a total of 352,000 for the week ended April 13, the Department of Labor reported Thursday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had been expecting a more modest rise, to about 350,000.

While initial claims have been trending downward for some time, in recent weeks claims have worsened –- raising concerns about whether the U.S. economy may be losing some of its momentum.

 

The four-week moving average of jobless claims, often preferred by economists because it evens out weekly volatility, also increased last week by 2,750 to 361,250.

Many economists believe the recent turbulence in claims is merely an issue of difficulties in seasonally adjusting the data to reflect Easter and school spring breaks.


“The trend over time will continue to be lower,” said Strider Elass, an economist at First Trust Advisors LP, a financial services firm in Wheaton, Ill. “Some of it could be seasonal adjustment, but it looks like things are starting to smooth out.”

“There’s definitely been some volatility in recent weeks,” said Tim Quinlan, an economist for Wells Fargo & Co. in Charlotte, N.C. “But this isn’t a bad level to be at.”

Others are less certain.

The claims from the latest two weeks “signal that recent labor market conditions are probably not as favorable as the claims data were showing early in March,” Daniel Silver, economist with J.P. Morgan, said in a research note Thursday.

The number of Illinois residents filing jobless claims rose as well. According to the Department of Labor report, the number of Illinois residents who filed claims for the week ended April 6 rose by 1,580. Most of the layoffs were in the manufacturing, construction and administrative support service industries.