Weekly Jobless Claims Inch Up, but Continuing Claims Fall

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Weekly jobless claimsThe Labor Department's latest weekly initial jobless claims report showed a small increase, some 2,000 higher to 439,000, but both the four-week moving average and continuing claims extended their downtrends. A Bloomberg survey had expected initial claims to total 445,000. The previous week's total was revised 2,000 higher to 437,000.

The four-week moving average dropped by 4,000 to 443,000. Economists emphasize this statistic as more telling because it smooths out anomalies due to holidays, strikes and weather-related layoffs. Continuing claims fell another 48,000 to 4.3 million. Some of this decline reflects Americans whose benefits have been exhausted, but some of it also reflects Americans who have found work.

Still, jobless claims remain stubbornly above the 400,000 level that most economists would consider as a clear sign that commercial activity is increasing at a pace that prompts most companies to curtail layoffs, and resume hiring. A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 509,000, the four-week moving average was at 516,500 and continuing claims totaled 5.63 million.

Five States Posted Large Increases

States also reported 3.97 million people claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits for the week ending Oct. 30, the latest week for which data are available, an increase of 66,767 from the prior week. A year ago, 3.58 million people claimed EUC benefits.

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Also, the pattern of fewer states posting large increases in jobless claims continued to slow last week. Five states posted large increases, up from four last week: North Carolina, 3,277; Pennsylvania, 3,005; Michigan, 2,218; Massachusetts, 2,183; and New York, 2,112.

The highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Oct. 30, the latest week for which data are available, were in Puerto Rico, 6%; Alaska, 5.5%: Oregon, 4.4%; California, 4.1%; and Pennsylvania, 4%.

Overall, this week's jobless claims report falls in the category of qualified good news. While claims inched higher, the more-telling four-week moving average fell, and the continuing claims dropped substantially -- two signs of ongoing labor market healing. Still, the pattern of fewer states posting large increases in jobless claims has paused, and that bears watching: If that metric doesn't resume its downtrend, it could be a sign that the reduction in layoffs is stagnating.
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