The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, hitting their lowest level in seven months, suggesting the labor market remains solid even as the economy is slowing.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 203,000 for the week ended Nov. 30, the lowest level since mid-April, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims increasing to 215,000 in the latest week.
Claims data tend to be volatile around holidays like last week's Thanksgiving Day, which was later this year compared to 2018. This can throw off the model that the government uses to strip out seasonal fluctuations from the data.
The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week. 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 2,000 to 217,750 last week.
The claims data has no bearing on November's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 180,000 jobs in November, boosted by the return of about 46,000 striking General Motors workers. The 40-day strike had helped to hold job growth down to 128,000 in October.
Employment gains have slowed this year, averaging 167,000 per month compared with an average monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018, in part because of a 17-month trade war between the United States and China, ebbing demand and a shortage of workers.
But the pace of hiring has been more than the roughly 100,000 jobs needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate is forecast holding at 3.6% in November.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 51,000 to 1.69 million for the week ended Nov. 23. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims was unchanged at 1.68 million.