The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week, suggesting the labor market was slowing, but probably not to the extent implied by a near-stall in job growth in February.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 229,000 for the week ended March 9, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised. The Labor Department said no states were estimated.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 225,000 in the latest week. Claims have been hovering in the middle of their 200,000-253,000 range this year.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, slipped 2,500 to 223,750 last week.
The labor market is slowing as workers become more scarce. Hiring is also being constrained by a weakening economy as stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut diminishes. Washington's trade war with Beijing, slowing demand overseas and uncertainty over Britain's exit from the European Union are also hurting economic activity.
The government reported last week that nonfarm payrolls increased by only 20,000 jobs in February, the weakest since September 2017, in part as payback after hefty gains in the prior two months. But the unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.8 percent and annual wage growth was the strongest since 2009..
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 18,000 to 1.78 million for the week ended March 2. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims dipped 1,000 to 1.77 million.