U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Reach Highest Level In Over Two Months

A day ahead of the release of the more closely watched monthly jobs report, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday showing first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by more than expected in the week ended March 4th.

The report said initial jobless claims climbed to 211,000, an increase of 21,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level of 190,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to inch up to 195,000.

With the bigger than expected increase, jobless claims reached their highest level since hitting 223,000 in the week ended December 24th.

Michael Pearce, Lead U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics, said the increase in jobless claims is the “first sign of weakness in the claims data this year but is still well short of the 300k+ level that would be consistent with a recession.”

“As the Fed presses ahead with more rate hikes, we expect layoffs to eventually rise significantly,” he added. “But in contrast to past downturns, the difficulty of finding workers means firms are likely to be reluctant to let go of employees and may respond to weaker demand by first cutting hours or offering smaller wage increases instead.”

The Labor Department also said the less volatile four-week moving average crept up to 197,000, an increase of 4,000 from the previous week’s unrevised average of 193,000.

Continuing claims, a reading on the number of people receiving ongoing unemployment assistance, also advanced by 69,000 to 1.718 million in the week ended February 25th.

The 4-week moving average of continuing claims also rose to 1,679,500, an increase of 9,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 1,670,000.

On Friday, the Labor Department is scheduled to release its more closely watched report on the employment situation in the month of February.

Economists currently expect employment to jump by 203,000 jobs in February after surging by 517,000 jobs in January, while the unemployment rate is expected to hold at 3.4 percent.

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