The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting labor market conditions remained solid, despite slowing job growth.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended March 23, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 5,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 225,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated. The government revised the claims data and the so-called seasonal factors from 2014 through 2018. It also updated the seasonal factor for 2019.
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 3,250 to 217,250 last week.
Job growth has slowed after last year's robust gain. The pace, however, remains more than enough to keep up with growth in the working age population. The unemployment rate is currently at 3.8 percent. The moderation in job growth also reflecting a shortage of workers and softening economic growth as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 13,000 to 1.76 million for the week ended March 16. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 4,250 to 1.75 million.
The continuing claims data covered the survey week for March's unemployment rate. The four-week average of continuing claims rose slightly between the February and March survey periods, suggesting little change in the unemployment rate.