Initial Jobless Claims Rise to Higher-Than-Expected 480,000

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The U.S. economy hit a minor setback on the employment front, as initial jobless claims edged 7,000 higher to 480,000 for the week ending Dec. 12, the Labor Department announced Thursday. The total came in well above the 465,000 Bloomberg News consensus estimate. Meanwhile, continuing claims rose 5,000 to 5.186 million. However, the 4-week moving average for initial jobless claims fell 5,250 to 467,500.
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A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 552,000 and continuing claims totaled 4.356 million.

Regarding jobless claims, economists view the 4-week average as a better indicator of unemployment conditions, as it smooths out anomalies for strikes, holidays or other idiosyncratic events.

Economists also monitor the continuing claims stat because it provides a snapshot of how long it's going to take the typical person to find comparable employment after losing a job. In general, continuing claims above 3 million reflect a slack labor market, and point to extended job searches of six to nine months or longer.

The largest increases in initial jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 5, the latest week for which data is available, were in: California, 28,358; Georgia, 19,454; North Carolina, 18,500; Pennsylvania, 17,352; and New York, 16,344. The largest decreases were in: Kansas, -3,803; Kentucky, -2,048; Idaho, -979; Iowa, -917; and Puerto Rico, -892.

Also, the highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Nov. 28, the latest week for which data is available, were in: Wisconsin, 6.4%; Oregon, 6.3; Alaska, 6.2%; Nevada, 5.5%; Puerto Rico, 5.4%; Michigan, 5.3%; Pennsylvania, 5.3%; Arkansas, 5.2%; Idaho, 5.2; North Carolina, 5.2%; and Washington state, 5.2%.

Economic Analysis

As noted, this was a disappointing week for jobless claims, as the 480,000 total was well above the 465,000 consensus estimate. That's a major reason economists emphasize the 4-week moving average: Despite the size of the U.S. economy, one major company lay-off or a holiday can still skew the weekly stat. The 4-week data smooths these anomalies out, and that average fell a healthy 5,250 to 467,500. The decreasing trend of the 4-week average is a key sign that the nation's job market is continuing to heal.
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