US jobless claims up, but trend consistent with labor market strength

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose last week, but remained at levels consistent with a strengthening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 269,000 for the week ended Nov 28, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were unrevised.

It was the 39th straight week that claims held below 300,000, which is normally associated with a healthy labor market. Claims are near levels last seen in 1973 and there is little room for further declines as the labor market normalizes.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 268,000 last week. The claims data covered the Thanksgiving Day holiday, which can cause volatility in the numbers.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the data and only claims for Louisiana had been estimated.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,750 to 269,250 last week.

Last week's claims have no bearing on Friday's employment report for November as they fall outside the survey period.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased 200,000 last month after rising 271,000 in October. The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged at a 7-1/2-year low of 5 percent.

Economists say that would be enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates later this month for the first time in nearly a decade. Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested on Wednesday that a rate hike was on the table at the Dec 15-16 meeting.

Yellen could offer more clues on the near-term monetary policy outlook when she speaks to lawmakers later on Thursday.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 6,000 to 2.16 million in the week ended Nov 21.

The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 2,250 to 2.17 million. After big declines for much of the year, the pace of improvement in continuing claims appears to have slowed in recent weeks. Economists say this suggested limited scope for the unemployment rate to fall further.