Most analysts prefer the four-week running average because it flattens volatility of the weekly numbers. That average was 360,750, up 8,000 from the previous week's revised number. Claims have been especially volatile since January, in part because it has been difficult to measure seasonal fluctuations in the data.
The department reported that four states, including California, had to estimate their claims because of the Presidents' Day holiday. Such estimates can mean big revisions in the subsequent week.
Companies are maintaining their staffing levels even amid concern that rising gasoline prices and a January tax increase will damp consumer spending. Looming cuts in government spending also threaten to slow growth, a sign that hiring may be limited in coming months.In all programs, federal and state, the total number of people claiming benefits for the week ending Feb. 2 was 5,610,327, down 307,848 from the previous week. For the comparable week of 2012, there were 7,486,681 persons claiming benefits in all programs. Although the lower year-to-year numbers reflect the fact many Americans found jobs, some of the reduction is due to people exhausting their benefits. Currently, fewer than 40 percent of unemployed Americans are receiving jobless benefits, way down over the more than 70 percent who were during the height of the Great Recession.
“Businesses just seem to be sitting tight with regard to layoffs, which is reason for optimism,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. “If we get through these hurdles over the next couple months the job market should begin to improve more noticeably,” said Sweet, who was the best forecaster of jobless claims over the past two years ended last week, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
In a separate report, the department said Thursday that Americans' real average weekly earnings are up 1.3 percent since October 2012. But in the past 12 months consumer prices were up 1.6 percent. Combined, those figures show the average American is losing financial ground even though the inflation rate is low.
Meanwhile, in minutes by the Federal Open Market Committee of its Jan. 29 meeting released Wednesday, there are indications the Federal Reserve Board could reduce its purchase of financial assets in a program designed to speed up hiring in the sluggish labor market. The Fed has previously said it would maintain such purchases until the official unemployment has fallen to 6.5 percent. Last month, it rose slightly to 7.9 percent.