U.S. jobless claims rise, but labor market still strong

By By Lucia MutikaniFeaturesReuters

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but remained below a level that is associated with a strong labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000 for the week ended Oct. 15, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

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That marked 85 straight weeks of claims below the 300,000 threshold normally associated with a strong jobs market, the longest such period since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 250,000 in the latest week.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

Part of the increase in claims last week could be related to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, which lashed the Southeast of the country, causing severe flooding.

The storm could have left some people temporarily out of work.

Unadjusted claims for North Carolina increased 2,520 last week.

Outside the storm-affected states, there were hefty gains in unadjusted claims for Michigan, Kentucky and California.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,250 to 251,750 last week.

The claims data covered the survey week for October's nonfarm payrolls.

The four-week average of claims fell 6,500 between the September and October survey periods, suggesting another month of solid employment growth.

Sustained labor market strength could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in December.

The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark overnight interest rate last December and has held it steady since, largely because of concerns over low inflation.

While the pace of employment growth has slowed to a monthly average of 178,000 jobs so far this year after averaging 229,000 positions per month in 2015, it remains well above the roughly 100,000 that Fed Chair Janet Yellen says is needed to absorb new entrants in the labor market.

Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 7,000 to 2.06 million in the week ended Oct. 8.

The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims dropped 12,750 to 2.05 million. That was the lowest reading since July 2000.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Meredith Mazzilli)