Jobless claims in US rise in see-saw pattern near decade lows

 An office worker sits at her desk in Washington, DC late at night. The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose last week.
An office worker sits at her desk in Washington, DC late at night. The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose last week.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose last week, maintaining a pattern of gains and losses around decade lows that signals firings remain muted.

Jobless claims climbed by 10,000 to 277,000 in the week ended Sept 26, a report from the Labor Department showed on Thursday (Oct 1). The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 271,000. The four-week moving average fell to the lowest level in almost two months and the total number of people receiving benefits was the smallest in 15 years.

Employers are retaining staff amid solid domestic demand, one reason why claims have been hovering near historically low levels even as overseas markets languish. Labor Department data on Friday may show payrolls climbed by about 200,000 workers in September after a 173,000 gain, according to the Bloomberg survey.

"Businesses are holding on to workers because the US economy is strong," Mr Thomas Costerg, a senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York, said before the report. "Claims are likely to stay at low levels in the near term. It's difficult for claims to go much lower from here." Economists' estimates in the Bloomberg survey for weekly jobless claims ranged from 260,000 to 286,000. The previous week's figure was unrevised at 267,000.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly claims numbers, decreased to 270,750 last week, the lowest since early August, from 271,750.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 53,000 to 2.19 million in the week ended Sept 19, the fewest since November 2000. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits declined to 1.6 per cent, the lowest since mid July. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Claims were estimated for Nevada last week and otherwise there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings, and a sustained low level of applications has typically coincided with faster job gains. Many layoffs may also reflect company- or industry-specific causes, such as cost-cutting or business restructuring, rather than underlying labour market trends.

Since early March, claims have been below the 300,000 level that economists say is typically consistent with an improving job market. In addition, steady growth in payrolls and more job openings are helping to sustain household spending, the biggest part of the economy.

Federal Reserve policy makers, who kept interest rates near zero when they met last month, noted global economic and financial market headwinds while citing improvement in the labour market.

The September payrolls report due on Friday may also show the unemployment rate probably held at 5.1 per cent, the lowest since April 2008, according to the Bloomberg survey median.