U.S. jobless claims signal labor market strength after rough patch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits fell marginally last week in a sign of labor market strength, with claims appearing to stabilize after drifting higher in recent months.

Job seekers line up at a job fair of an oil services giant Halliburton at the MCM Grande Fundome hotel in Odessa, Texas, U.S., July 19, 2018. Picture taken on July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Liz Hampton

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended Dec. 22, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Initial claims have now fallen in three of the last four weeks and are just above the 49-year low of 202,000 reached in the week ended Sept. 15.

After several years of near-steady falls, claims trended higher between mid-September and mid-December, prompting concern the U.S. economy was losing a step.

It remains unclear how much of that increase was related to the difficulty government statisticians have in adjusting the claims data for seasonal swings. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims increasing to 217,000 in the latest week.

The latest claims data “signals improvement in the labor market relative to a few weeks ago, but softening in conditions relative to a few months ago,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan.

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 4,750 to 218,000 last week.

Worries about the U.S. economy have also been stoked by signs of weakness in the housing market.

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