The amount of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased slightly more than anticipated last week, but the four-week average of claims decreased to its lowest point since 1973, directing to enhancing labor market conditions. Original claims for state unemployment benefits rose 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000 for the week ended Feb. 18, the Labor Department stated on Thursday. Data for the prior week was modified to display 1,000 less applications received than previously reported. It was the 103rd consecutive week that claims stayed below 300,000, a level correlated with a strong labor market. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much lesser. The labor market is at or near full employment, with the unemployment rate at 4.8 percent.
Economists polled by Reuters predicted new claims for unemployment benefits increasing to 241,000 in the most recent week. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a healthier measure of labor market trends as it levels out week-to-week volatility, dropped 4,000 to 241,000 last week, the lowest recording since July 1973. US financial markets were barely affected by the data. Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s Jan. 31-Feb monetary policy meeting published on Wednesday displayed that many policymakers thought another interest rate hike might be happen “fairly soon” if labor market and inflation data meet or beat expectations. The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark overnight interest rate last December. It had forecasted three rate increases this year.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no key factors manipulating last week’s claims data. Claims for Wyoming, Virginia and Hawaii were estimated. Last week’s claims report covered the survey period for the Labor Department’s nonfarm payrolls data for February. The four-week average of claims dropped 6,500 between the January and February payrolls survey weeks. This indicates another month of healthy job gains after payrolls increased 227,000 in January. Thursday’s claims report also displayed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 17,000 to 2.06 million in the week ended Feb. 11. The four-week average of the continuing claims declined 10,750 to 2.07 million.