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The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits increased by the most in 19 months last week, but the underlying trend continued to point to labor market strength.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits jumped 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 230,000 for the week ended April 20, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The increase was the largest since early September 2017. Claims dropped to 193,000 in the week prior, which was the lowest level since September 1969.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to only 200,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week. Claims tend to be volatile around this time of the year because of the different timings of Easter and Passover holidays, as well as spring breaks.
Despite the volatility, labor market strength remains intact. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 4,500 to 206,000 last week.
Job gains averaged 180,000 in the first quarter, well above the roughly 100,000 jobs per month needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The strong labor market is helping to support the economy which is slowing as last year's fiscal stimulus fades.
The unemployment rate is at 3.8%, close to the 3.7% Federal Reserve officials project it will be by the end of the year.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 1,000 to 1.66 million for the week ended April 13. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 25,000 to 1.69 million. The continuing claims data covered the week during which households were surveyed for April's unemployment rate.
Continuing claims declined by 100,000 between the March and April survey periods, suggesting an improvement in the unemployment rate this month.