US weekly jobless claims unchanged at low levels

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 7:43 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits was unchanged at low levels last week, pointing to continued labor market strength.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 212,000 for the week ended April 13, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 215,000 claims in the latest week. Claims have been bouncing around in a 194,000-225,000 range this year.

Labor market strength, which is driving the economy, together with elevated inflation have led financial markets and some economists to expect that the Federal Reserve could delay cutting interest rates until September. A few economists doubt that the U.S. central bank will lower borrowing costs this year.

Financial markets initially expected the first rate cut to come in March, which then got pushed back to June and now to September as data on the labor market and inflation continued to surprise on the upside in the first three months of the year.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell backed away on Tuesday from providing any guidance on when rates might be cut, saying instead that monetary policy needed to be restrictive for longer. The central bank has kept its policy rate in the 5.25%-5.50% range since July. It has raised the benchmark overnight interest rate by 525 basis points since March of 2022.

The claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed businesses and other establishments for the nonfarm payrolls component of April’s employment report. The economy added 303,000 jobs in March.

The Fed’s Beige Book report on Wednesday described employment as rising at a “slight pace overall” since late February, adding that “several districts reported improved retention of employees, and others pointed to staff reductions at some firms.”

It also noted that even as labor supply has improved, “many districts described persistent shortages of qualified applicants for certain positions, including machinists, trades workers and hospitality workers.”

Data next week on the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid, a proxy for hiring, will offer more clues on the state of the labor market in April. The so-called continuing claims edged up 2,000 to 1.812 million during the week ending April 6, the claims report showed.

Though still low by historical standards, the slightly elevated level of continued claims suggest it could be taking longer for some of the unemployed workers to land new jobs.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)