The number of Americans filing
for unemployment benefits fell to more than a 45-year low last week, suggesting
the economy remains strong despite signs of a slowdown in the first quarter.
Initial claims for state
unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 215,000 for the
week ended March 24, the lowest level since January 1973, the Labor Department
said on Thursday. Data for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 fewer
claims received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had
forecast claims falling to 230,000 in the latest week. The government released
2018 seasonal factors with the report and published revisions to the seasonal
factors and data going back to 2013.
The revisions did not change the
theme of tightening labor market conditions. Claims have now been below the
300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market, for 158
straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor
market was much smaller.
The labor market is considered to
be near or at full employment. The jobless rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1
percent, not too far from the Federal Reserve’s forecast of 3.8 percent by the
end of this year.
The Labor Department said claims
for Maine, Hawaii and Colorado were estimated last week. It also said
claims-taking procedures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had still not
returned to normal after the territories were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and
Maria last year.
The four-week moving average of
initial claims, viewed as a better measure of labor market trends as it irons
out week-to-week volatility, slipped 500 to 224,500 last week.
Economists are optimistic that
tightening labor market conditions will start boosting wage growth in the
second half of this year. That should help to support consumer spending, which
slowed at the start of the year.
The claims report also showed the
number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased
35,000 to 1.87 million in the week ended March 17. The four-week moving average
of the so-called continuing claims fell 12,750 to 1.86 million.
The continuing claims data
covered the week of the household survey from which March’s unemployment rate
will be calculated. The four-week average of continuing claims declined 46,000
between the February and March survey periods, suggesting little change in the
jobless rate this month.