The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits was unchanged at higher levels last week, but the trend remained consistent with tightening labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits were flat at a seasonally adjusted 230,000 for the week ended April 27, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims surged 37,000 in the prior week, which was the largest rise since September 2017.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 215,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week. Claims have been volatile in recent weeks because of the different timings of the Easter and Passover holidays as well as school spring breaks.
A strike by workers at Stop & Shop supermarkets in New England, which has since ended, likely contributed to the recent surge in claims. Unadjusted claims in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont dropped last week after rising in the week ended April 20.
There was a jump in unadjusted claims for New York, likely reflecting a late spring break for public schools.
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 6,500 to 212,500 last week.
The claims data has no bearing on April's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 185,000 jobs in April after rising by 196,000 positions in March.
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 unemployment rate is forecast to be unchanged at 3.8% in April.
Sustained labor market strength, which is underpinning the economy, encouraged the Federal Reserve on Wednesday to hold interest rates steady.
The U.S. central bank signaled little appetite to adjust its monetary policy stance any time soon, also holding out hope that inflation will rose toward its 2% target. A key inflation measure tracked by the Fed increased 1.6% in the year to March, the smallest gain in 14 months.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 17,000 to 1.67 million for the week ended April 20. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 13,750 to 1.67 million.