The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased less than expected last week, suggesting the labor market continued to tighten after recent hurricane-related disruptions.
Other data on Thursday showed the goods trade deficit widened in September as an increase in exports was outpaced by a jump in imports. Labor market strength supports the view that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 233,000 for the week ended Oct. 21, the Labor Department said. Claims fell to 223,000 in the prior week, which was the lowest level since March 1973.
Economists had forecast claims rising to 235,000 in the latest week. They have declined from the almost three-year high of 298,000 hit at the start of September in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which ravaged parts of Texas and Florida.
The impact of Harvey and Irma has largely dropped out of the claims data for the mainland United States. But Irma and Hurricane Maria continue to impact claims for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, now virtually isolated because of the destruction of infrastructure due to the storms.
A Labor Department official said they continued to estimate claims data for the islands.
Last week marked the 138th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at more than a 16-1/2-year low of 4.2 percent.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 9,000 to 239,500 last week. That suggests a sharp rebound in job growth in October after nonfarm payrolls dropped by 33,000 jobs in September.