WASHINGTON, April 4 The number of Americans filing
new claims for unemployment benefits rose to its highest level
in four months last week, suggesting the labor market recovery
lost some steam in March.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased
28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 385,000, the highest level since
November, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
It was the third straight week of gains in claims. Coming
on the heels of data on Wednesday showing private employers
added the fewest jobs in five months in March, the report
implied some weakening in job growth after hiring accelerated in
Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time
applications last week to fall to 350,000.
The four-week moving average for new claims, a better
measure of labor market trends, rose 11,250 to 354,250.
A Labor Department analyst said claims for California and
the Virgin Islands had been estimated and there were no special
factors in the underlying state-level data.
While the claims report has no bearing on Friday's nonfarm
payrolls data for March as it falls outside the survey period,
it hinted at some weakness in hiring.
Employers are expected to have added 200,000 jobs to their
payrolls last month, according to a Reuters survey, slowing from
February's brisk 236,000. The jobless rate is seen unchanged at
Claims over the next several weeks will be watched closely
for signs of layoffs related to $85 billion in government budget
cuts known as the "sequester."
The labor market is key to the Federal Reserve's monetary
policy. This month the central bank said it would maintain its
monthly $85 billion purchases of mortgage and Treasury bonds to
keep rates low and foster faster job growth.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular
state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 8,000 to
3.06 million in the week ended March 23.