US jobless claims fall from 7-month high

Attendees pick up leaflets at a military veterans' job fair in Carson, California.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week from a seven-month high, pointing to continued improvement in labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 307,000 for the week ended Jan. 17, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

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That reversed the bulk of the prior week's increase which had pushed claims to their highest level since early June. The rise was dismissed by economists as "noise" given that claims data is difficult to adjust for seasonal variations around the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 300,000 last week. The prior week's data was revised to show 1,000 more claims received than previously reported.

Why unemployment is still an issue
Why unemployment is still an issue

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased 6,500 last week to 306,500, taking it above the 300,000 mark for the first time since September.

The claims data covered the week during which the government surveyed employers for January's nonfarm payrolls.

Despite the gyrations in claims and the four-week average rising 7,750 between the December and January payroll survey periods, there is little doubt that the labor market is tightening.

Employment gains have exceeded 200,000 in each of the last 11 months, the longest stretch since 1994, and job openings are near 14-year highs. In addition, the ratio of unemployed people for every job opening is the lowest since early 2008.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 15,000 to 2.44 million in the week ended Jan. 10.