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Jobless claims grow anew, but backlog clouds data

Job seekers line up to meet potential employers at a job fair in Portland, Oregon.
Natalie Behring | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Job seekers line up to meet potential employers at a job fair in Portland, Oregon.

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose last week, but it was difficult to get a clear read on the labor market's health because a Labor Department analyst said two states appeared to be working through a backlog of unprocessed claims.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 309,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Claims data have been thrown into disarray since an update in government computer systems in California and Nevada created a backlog in the processing of new claims two weeks ago.

That initially led to a sharp decline in new processed claims earlier this month, and a Labor Department analyst said the two states still appeared to be working through the backlog, which he said could take another week or two.

If taken at face value, the data hinted at a pickup in hiring during September. The data was collected during the same week the Labor Department surveys employers for its monthly employment report.

At 314,750, the four-week average was about 5 percent lower than it was during the employment report's survey week in August, when employers added a lackluster 169,000 jobs to payrolls.

However, even that reading, which smooths out weekly volatility, could rise in coming weeks if a backlog of claims continues to be cleared.

Surge in exports narrows trade gap

Separately, an increase in U.S. exports narrowed the country's current account deficit in the second quarter to its lowest level in four years, the Commerce Department said.

The current account deficit, a broad measure of the flow of goods, services and money across national borders, dropped to $98.9 billion in the April-June period from a revised $104.9 billion in the prior period.

The first quarter level was the lowest since 2009. The gap was equivalent to 2.4 percent of national economic output, the smallest ratio since 1998.

The United States' persistent current account deficit is widely seen as a problem for the global economy, although it has narrowed substantially in recent years from a record high 6.2 percent of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Much of the narrowing came from an increase in U.S. exports, which rose 0.9 percent from the first quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters expected a fourth-quarter current account deficit of $97 billion.

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