Weekly Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Jump 31,000 to 473,000

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The U.S. economy suffered a setback on the employment front for the week ending Feb. 13, as jobless claims gave back much of the previous week's large improvement, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday. A Bloomberg News economists survey had expected jobless claims to total 440,000.

However, the more-telling four-week moving average dipped 1,500 to 467,500, while continuing claims were unchanged at 4.563 million.A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 631,000, continuing claims were 4.948 million, and the four-week moving average was 615,500.

Economists view the four-week average as a better indicator of unemployment conditions because it smooths out anomalies for strikes, holidays or other idiosyncratic events. And they 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 , six- to nine-month or longer, job searches.

The roller-coaster from the previous week to this week is a case study of why economists emphasize the four-week moving average: Initial jobless claims can vary considerably based on one-time events, and revisions can be substantial. Hence, investors should concentrate on the more-indicative four-week average. As long as that metric continues to trend lower, it's more likely that the labor markets are healing.
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