The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, hitting
their highest level in more than three months, likely as a cold snap kept some workers at home.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 261,000 for the week ended Jan. 6, the highest level since late September, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims have now risen for four straight weeks.
The increase likely does not suggest a material shift in labor market conditions as claims data tend to be volatile during year-end holidays. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 245,000 in the latest week.
A large part of the country was hit by frigid temperatures and snow during the first week of 2018, likely making it hard for some people to report for work. Unadjusted claims for New York increased by 27,170 last week, more than half of the national total.
The Labor Department said claims data for Maine were estimated. It also said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after they were battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, while claims processing in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal.
Last week marked the 149th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.
The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 9,000 to 250,750.
The continuing low level of claims suggests a strong labor market. The pace of job growth is, however, expected to slow this year as the labor market hits full employment. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 148,000 jobs in December after surging by 252,000 in November.
Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 35,000 to 1.87 million in the week ended Dec. 30, the lowest level since December 1973. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 5,500 to 1.91 million.