U.S. Jobless Claims Rose to 249,000 Last Week -- Update

By Ben Leubsdorf Features Dow Jones Newswires

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits rose for the second straight week, but remained near historically low levels headed into the holiday season.

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Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 249,000 in the week ended Nov. 11, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 235,000 new claims last week.

Claims spiked in the wake of several powerful late-summer hurricanes, then settled down to levels consistent with broad health in the U.S. labor market.

Weekly initial unemployment applications have hovered below 300,000 for 141 straight weeks. That is the longest streak since claims remained below that level for 161 consecutive weeks ended April 1970, though the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller in those days.

Damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria is still felt in some U.S. territories. The Labor Department warned "claims taking procedures continue to be severely disrupted in the Virgin Islands," while officials in Puerto Rico "are now processing backlogged claims."

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Data on jobless claims tend to be especially volatile around holidays; Nov. 11 was Veterans Day. The steadier four-week moving average for claims rose 6,500 to 237,750 last week.

Claims data may remain jumpy for several more months, into the new year, due to seasonal turbulence.

"The readings from Veterans Day through Presidents Day have historically been noisier than usual due to holidays, weather and turn-of-the-year churn in the labor market," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities in a note to clients. The number of claims drawn by workers longer than a week fell 44,000 to 1.86 million in the week ended Nov. 4, hitting its lowest level since late December 1973. Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.

Disruptions caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in August and September have faded from many national economic statistics. Hiring rebounded in October following a near-stall in September and the unemployment rate last month fell to 4.1%, according to Labor Department data.

The Federal Reserve on Nov. 1 said in a statement that "the labor market has continued to strengthen" and "economic activity has been rising at a solid rate despite hurricane-related disruptions." The U.S. central bank is widely expected to raise short-term interest rates for the third time this year when policy makers next meet in December.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 16, 2017 10:08 ET (15:08 GMT)