Jobless claims fall to a 5-month low

By Poroma Pant

The number of Americans applying for new unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in five months, indicating a continued low rate of employer layoffs and a steadily improving labor market.

The U.S Department of Labor said in a Thursday report that, for the week ended March 5, initial unemployment claims fell by 18,000 to seasonally adjusted 259,000. That was a welcome surprise: Economists polled by Bloomberg had estimated the number of new job-seekers to total a larger 275,000.

Initial Claims figures from 2006 – 2016

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The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, hitting its lowest level since October. (Poroma Pant/MEDILL)

Typically, initial claims below 300,000 a week are considered an indication of a healthy economy; claims have now run under this figure for a 53-week period – the longest run since the early 1970s.

Because the weekly data are often volatile, many economists prefer to look at the Labor Department’s four-week moving average, which smooths out the data and offers a more accurate view of underlying labor-market trends. In the latest week, the average fell by 2,500 to 267,500.

“Weekly figures can be choppy; so we do not want to take too much from just one week of data,” J.P Morgan economist Daniel Silver said in an online note discussing the better-than-expected claims data, but he emphasized that “The broader trend in the claims has remained upbeat lately while the four weeks claim reached its lowest level since October suggesting continued improvement in the labor market.”

Additionally, 2.26 million Americans collected weekly unemployment benefits last week. That “continuing claims” number was down 32,000 from the prior week.

(Flazingo Photos/Flickr)