U.S. Jobless Claims Rose to 248,000 Last Week -- Update

By Ben Leubsdorf Features Dow Jones Newswires

The number of Americans applying for new unemployment benefits jumped ahead of the Memorial Day holiday but remained at a low level consistent with a healthy U.S. labor market.

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Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., increased by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 248,000 in the week ended May 27, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the highest level in five weeks.

"The broad picture remains the same," Amherst Pierpont Securities chief economist Stephen Stanley said in a note to clients. "Initial claims are running at historically low levels, suggesting that layoffs are extremely low."

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a more modest rise to 238,000 new claims last week; initial claims for the prior week were revised slightly higher.

Data on jobless claims often are volatile from week to week, especially around holidays when seasonal adjustments can be difficult. Monday was Memorial Day. The four-week moving average for initial claims, a more stable measure, rose by 2,500 to 238,000 last week.

Government officials also had to estimate figures for a number of states, including California, "so a larger-than-normal revision could occur next week," MFR Inc.'s chief U.S. economist, Joshua Shapiro, said in a note to clients.

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Low claims suggest few companies are laying off workers, a sign of health in the broader economy, though the link between job cuts and jobless claims isn't always airtight. Weekly claims have hovered below 300,000 for 117 consecutive weeks, the longest such streak since 1970 -- when the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller than they are today.

The job market has tightened in recent years. The unemployment rate in April was 4.4%, matching its lowest level since 2001, and nonfarm payrolls rose by an average of 185,000 per month in the first four months of 2017. Economists surveyed by the Journal expect the government on Friday will report that joblessness was steady in May at 4.4% and employers added 184,000 new jobs.

Also on Thursday, the Labor Department said continuing unemployment claims, reflecting benefits drawn by workers for longer than a week, fell by 9,000 to 1.915 million in the week ended May 20. The four-week moving average for continuing claims hit its lowest level since Jan. 12, 1974.

Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.

Write to Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 01, 2017 09:43 ET (13:43 GMT)