U.S. jobless claims fall to lowest level since November

Illinois Department of Employment Security (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)
Illinois Department of Employment Security (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)

By Lucia Maffei

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped to a three-month low last week, a better-than-expected performance that suggests labor market conditions are improving.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that in the week ended Feb. 13, initial jobless claims declined by 7,000 from the previous week, to a seasonally adjusted 262,000. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had been expecting a significantly higher 275,000 claims.

The latest week’s numbers are the lowest since late November, when initial jobless claims declined from 272,000 to 260,000.

Initial Jobless Claims (in thousands)

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Initial jobless claims reached a peak during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The graph includes numbers for March 31 and Sept. 30 of every year from 2006 to 2015, and for Febr. 18, 2016. (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)

The 4-week moving average of claims, which many observers consider a more reliable indicator because it smooths out volatile weekly swings, dropped by 8,000 to 273,250, the Labor Department said. That reading represents the moving average’s best performance since mid-December.

The latest readings, J.P. Morgan economist Daniel Silver wrote in an online note Thursday, “send an upbeat signal regarding conditions in the labor market.”

Silver added in the same document: “It also now looks like some of the higher claims figures reported about a month or so ago may have been related to some temporary factors such as an unfavorable change in the weather and/or layoffs of temporary workers following the holiday season.”

Continuing claims – the number of U.S. citizens covered by unemployment insurance and currently receiving benefits – during the week ending Feb. 6 was 2.27 million, an increase of 30,000 from the previous week’s revised level.

Photo at top: The Illinois Department of Employment Security on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)