Unemployment benefit claims fall to 15-year low

Unemployment benefit claims fall to 15-year low

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in 15 years last week, a sign of an improving labor market and more stable employment for Americans. Seasonally adjusted first-time claims were 262,000 for the week, down 34,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That figure is still preliminary but if it holds up in future reports, it would be the lowest for any week since April 15, 2000, when the number was 259,000.US-jobs-sign-Washington-007

The four-week moving average, which filters out weekly volatility in the data and is more closely tracked by economists, was 283,750, a drop of 1,250 from the previous average. A year ago, that average was 319,500, according to Labor data from Haver Analytics. First-time claims for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs, so declining numbers reflect a labor market that is generally keeping people employed. During the worst of the recession, weekly claims routinely ran over 600,000 a week.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.5% in March compared with 6.6% a year before and 9.9% in April 2010. But job gains in March fell to just 126,000, the lowest figure since December 2013 and breaking a 12-month string of gains above 200,000.

Economists are predicting the employment outlook will recover with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ next report on April employment, due on May 8. The Action Economics survey’s median forecasts call for payroll additions of 228,000 jobs and a drop in the unemployment rate to 5.4%.

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