U.S. Jobless Claims Fell, Signaling a Strengthening Labor Market

By Sharon Nunn and Josh Mitchell Features Dow Jones Newswires

The number of Americans filing applications for new unemployment benefits fell last week, showing the overall strength of the labor market.

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Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., decreased 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 238,000 in the week ended Nov. 25, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 240,000 new claims last week.

The claims drop shows an already strong and further tightening job market that could unleash a bout of wage increases. U.S. employers hired at a strong rate in October, pulling the unemployment rate down to 4.1%, the lowest reading since the early 2000s.

This tightness has led to wage increases for some workers, a recent Federal Reserve report, known as the beige book, showed. It found labor across the U.S. was scarce for some professional, technical and production-related positions, and as a result, employers were "raising wages… to retain or attract employees." If these labor shortages spread to other sectors of the workforce, more employers could be forced to offer similar pay growth.

Still, jobless claims data can be volatile. The four-week moving average, a steadier measure, rose 2,250 to 242,250 last week.

Meanwhile, the number of claims workers made for longer than a week also increased, rising to 1,957,000 in the week ended Nov. 18, which is reported along with last week's data because continuing claims are released with a one-week lag. Recently, the measure of workers on these unemployment rolls has been trending near the lowest levels since 1973, while the weekly unemployment applications have held below 300,000 for more than two-and-a-half years, the longest streak since the 1970s too.

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The initial effects of hurricanes that battered the southern and eastern U.S. appeared to have almost completely fizzled out in the initial weekly claims numbers. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico no longer claim top spots for states or U.S. territories adding the most initial claims in a single week. Now, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have the highest rates of claims made for longer than a week, signaling many have moved on to longer-term unemployment benefits.

The Labor Department's latest report on jobless claims can be accessed at: https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf

Write to Sharon Nunn at sharon.nunn@wsj.com and Josh Mitchell at joshua.mitchell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 30, 2017 08:45 ET (13:45 GMT)