The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the underlying trend suggested no shift in labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits slipping to 335,000 in the week ended Feb. 22, which included the Presidents Day holiday. While last week's increase pushed them to the upper end of their range so far this year, it probably does not signal labor market weakness as claims tend to be volatile around federal holidays.
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The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, was unchanged at 338,250. A Labor Department analyst said no states were estimated and there were no special factors affecting the state level data.
An unusually cold winter has clouded the labor market picture, with job growth braking sharply in December and recovering only marginally in January.
A third month of weak hiring is expected after snowstorms slammed the densely populated regions of the country during the survey week for February nonfarm payrolls. The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 8,000 to 2.96 million in the week ended Feb. 15.
The so-called continuing claims have been elevated in recent weeks and some economists say the cold weather could be preventing many recipients from going out to search for work and companies to delay hiring.