Jobless claims decline as holiday shakeout ends

Claims for unemployment benefits go down

By Ashesha Mehrotra

The number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last week dropped to a seven-week low last week, a better-than-expected performance that suggests the labor market is stabilizing after a period of post-holiday layoffs.

In the week ended Feb. 6, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday, initial jobless claims declined by 16,000 from the previous week, to a seasonally adjusted 269,000. The number of claims was lower than the 280,000 that economists surveyed by Bloomberg had been expecting.

Weekly Claims for Unemployment Benefits, 2011-2016

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The number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits week to week has decreased. (Ashesha Mehrotra/MEDILL)

Because the weekly jobs data tend to be volatile, many observers prefer to focus on the four-week moving average of claims., as a better indicator of underlying trends. The Labor Department said the four-week average declined by 3,500, to 281,250.

Despite the recent fall in initial claims, analysts continue to predict a slowdown in the job market in times to come.

“We continue to look for some slowing in job growth over time,” J.P.Morgan economist Daniel Silver said in a research note on Thursday, “but the recent improvement in the claims data supports our view that this softening will be modest rather than abrupt.”

While Silverman remains cautious about the recent boost in numbers, he did cite the downward tick of of the insured unemployment rate, to 1.6 percent from 1.7 percent n the prior week, as the “most favorable expansion to date.”

Continuing claims — the number of U.S. citizens who receive unemployment benefits on a weekly basis– trickled down by 21,000 to 2.23 million, Thursday’s report said

The numbers for Illinois, on the contrary, showed a marked deterioration: in the week ended Jan. 30, the state saw the largest increase in initial claims in the nation. Illinois claims shot up by 5,092.

Unemployed queue in California. (Wikimedia)