New Jobless Claims Soar, but Continuing Claims Fall

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New jobless claims soar, continuing claims fallA mixed bag this week on the employment front, as jobless claims unexpectedly rose 18,000 to 460,000, in part due to a seasonal factor associated with the Easter holiday, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday. However, continuing claims dropped 131,000 to 4.550 million.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected jobless claims to fall to 436,000. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average inched higher to 450,250.

A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 643,000, continuing claims totaled 5.844 million, and the four-week moving average was at 643,000. Economists generally view the four-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 once he or she has sustained a job loss. In general, continuing claims above 3 million reflect a slack labor market, and point to extended job searches lasting more than six months.

Additionally, states reported 5.59 million persons claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for the week ending March 20, the latest week for which data is available, a decrease of 300,853 from the prior week. A year ago, there were 2.25 million EUC claimants.

The highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending March 20, the latest week for which data is available, were in: Alaska, 7.1%; Puerto Rico, 6.1%; Oregon, 6.0%; Wisconsin, 5.7%; Montana, 5.6%; Idaho, 5.5%; Michigan, 5.4%; Pennsylvania, 5.4%; Nevada, 5.3%; and Rhode Island, 5.2%

The key takeaway from this week's employment report? The large 131,000 drop in continuing claims to 4.550 million. Jobless claims did rise by 18,000 but investors should keep in mind that the report probably was skewed higher by data adjustment ahead of the Easter holiday. Most likely, this week's data will be revised lower in next week's report. What's more, the more telling stat -- the four-week moving average -- remains in a downtrend, despite this week's minor rise.
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