Applications for US unemployment benefits likely unchanged last week

Markets Associated Press

The U.S. Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. The report will be released Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

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STEADY CLAIMS: Economists forecast that weekly applications were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 291,000, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet. The number of people seeking benefits has stayed close to that level for the prior two weeks, after freezing weather and snowstorms caused school closures and shuttered construction sites that temporarily caused applications to spike. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, has fallen 7.5 percent over the past year to 304,750.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers hold onto their workers, it suggests that they expect economic growth to continue and may hire additional staff. Applications below 300,000 are typically consistent with net monthly job gains of more than 200,000.

HIRING SPREE: As layoffs have dipped, job growth has soared. In each of the past 12 months, employers have added at least 200,000 jobs. The gains totaled 295,000 in February, as the harsh winter weather that has hurt retail sales, housing starts and factory output appears to have little impact on hiring.

The job growth has slashed the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent from 6.7 percent a year ago.

Still, wages have yet to rise significantly, limiting the benefits to the overall economy from the additional jobs. Average hourly wages have climbed just 2 percent over the past 12 months.