U.S. Jobless Claims Decline Heading into Holiday Season

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits fell last week, the latest signal the labor market is on strong footing heading into the end of the year.

Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., decreased 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 239,000 in the week ended Nov. 18, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 240,000 new claims last week.

Weekly jobless claims data was released on Wednesday, a day earlier that typical due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Data on jobless claims tend to be volatile, especially around holidays. The steadier four-week moving average for claims rose 1,250 to 239,750 last week.

In recent months claims were modestly elevated from near four-decade lows 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 held below 300,000 for more than two-and-a-half years. That's the longest streak since claims remained below that level for about three years ended April 1970, though the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller in those days.

A low level of layoffs this year is consistent with other reports showing steady hiring. 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 number of claims drawn by workers longer than a week rose by 36,000 to 1.90 million in the week ended Nov. 11. Still, the measure of workers on unemployment rolls has been trending near the lowest levels since 1973. Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.

The Labor Department said damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria is still felt in some U.S. territories, but the disruption to claims data is decreasing. The department said claims taking procedures "continue to be disrupted" in the Virgin Islands. Previously, it said procedures were severely disrupted. Meanwhile, "the ability to take claims has improved in Puerto Rico," the department said.

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

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com and Sarah Chaney at sarah.chaney@wsj.com.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 22, 2017 08:45 ET (13:45 GMT)