The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week, but remained below 300,000 for the seventh consecutive week.
Jobless claims increased by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 250,000 in the week ended April 18, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. The median estimate of economists called for a decline to 290,000.
The four-week average for jobless claims – a less volatile measure of layoffs in the labour market – increased 1,850 to 284,500.
Weekly jobless claims provide a consistent summary of the number of workers making first-time claims for unemployment benefits. A drop in jobless claims is usually associated with stronger hiring trends, indicating employers are retaining workers to meet ongoing demand.
Declining jobless claims suggest employers are retaining workers in response to higher demand. Economists expect that more plentiful jobs and declining consumer prices will support household spending in the months ahead.
The number of Americans continuing to receive jobless benefits increased by 57,000 to 2.325 million in the week ended April 11 after reaching the lowest level since 2000 the week before.
Jobless claims have now held below 300,000 for seven consecutive weeks, a sign the labour market was continually strengthening despite hitting a soft patch in March. Employers added only 126,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, the slowest pace of hiring since December 2013. Economists blame bad weather for much of the slowdown.
The unemployment rate held at 5.5 percent last month, official data showed. Latest forecasts from the Federal Reserve show a further drop in unemployment this year, giving policymakers enough leverage to begin normalizing monetary policy. The unemployment rate could fall to as low as 5.2 percent in 2015, according to the Fed’s revised summary of economic projections released in March.