Weekly jobless claims fall less than expected

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) - - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week, suggesting some loss of momentum in a labor market that continues to tighten.

Job seekers fill out applications at a job fair at the Denver Workforce Center in Denver, Colorado, U.S. February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000 for the week ended March 25, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week’s data was unrevised.

Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 108 straight weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is currently near full employment.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week’s claims data. Claims for Louisiana and Hawaii were estimated.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased 7,750 to 254,250 last week.

The labor market strength suggests that an apparent slowdown in economic growth at the start of year is probably temporary. The Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting gross domestic product rising at a 1.0 percent annualized rate in the first three months of 2017.

The economy grew at a 2.1 percent pace in the fourth quarter. Job growth has averaged 209,000 per month over the past three months and the unemployment rate is at 4.7 percent, close to the nine-year low of 4.6 percent hit last November.

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 65,000 to 2.05 million in the week ended March 18. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims fell 1,250 to 2.03 million, the lowest level since June 2000.

The continuing claims data covered the survey week for March’s unemployment rate. The four-week average of claims fell 31,000 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting some improvement in the unemployment rate.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao