The number of US citizens filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, offering hope the sluggish labor market recovery may have picked up a step.
Initial claims for state jobless aid dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, the US Department of Labor said on Thursday. The prior week’s claims figure was revised to show 2,000 more applications were received than previously reported.
Last week’s drop in claims exceeded economists’ expectations for only a 6,000 decline and pushed first-time filings down to the lower end of their range for this year.
“It does seem as if claims are trending down a bit. We think payroll growth will pick up this year and this sort of gradual downtrend in claims seems consistent with that,” said Sam Coffin, an economist at UBS in New York.
However, some economists said a blizzard that slammed the US east coast late last week and difficulties smoothing out the data for seasonal fluctuations could have artificially depressed claims.
While they were encouraged by the decline, they cautioned against reading too much into the data.
“Claims may not be giving a reliable signal about the labor market,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.
A US Department of Labor analyst said claims for Illinois and Connecticut, one of the states hardest hit by the snowstorm, had been estimated. He said given that most claims are filed online, the blizzard appeared to have little effect on the broader data.