The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since the summer, but remained at a low level consistent with a healthy U.S. job market.
Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., rose by 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000 in the week ended Nov. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the highest level for claims in five months, since the week ended June 25, and above economists’ expectations for 250,000 new claims last week.
But data on unemployment applications can be volatile from week to week, especially around holidays when seasonal adjustments are difficult, and Thanksgiving was last Thursday. On an unadjusted basis, claims fell last week, albeit less than the Labor Department’s seasonal factors had expected.
“As the last few weeks demonstrate, we are in the midst of a time of the year when weekly readings tend to exhibit above-normal volatility that reflects noise rather than signal,” Amherst Pierpont Securities chief economist Stephen Stanley said in a note to clients. “Thus, we should brace for these types of swings all the way until Presidents Day in February.”
Jobless claims have climbed by 35,000 over the past two weeks after falling by 33,000 over the prior two-week period. The more-stable four-week moving average edged up last week by 500 to 251,500.
Initial claims have now remained below 300,000 for 91 consecutive weeks, the longest such streak since 1970 — when the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller than they are today.
“We have no reason to expect the trend to change significantly for the foreseeable future,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients.
The Labor Department said no special factors affected the latest claims data.
Thursday’s report also showed continuing unemployment claims, drawn by workers for longer than a week, rose by 38,000 to 2,081,000 in the week ended Nov. 19. Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.
The U.S. labor market remains broadly healthy. The unemployment rate has hovered at or below 5% for 13 straight months and the labor-force participation rate has inched higher after years of decline. Nonfarm employers added an average of 181,000 jobs a month during the first 10 months of 2016, a solid pace though slower than last year’s monthly average of 229,000.
“Taken together, labor market indicators show an economy that is on solid footing and close to our mandate of maximum employment,” Federal Reserve governor Jerome Powell said Tuesday during a speech in Indianapolis.
The Labor Department on Friday will release its monthly jobs report for November. Economists expect nonfarm payrolls to rise by 180,000 and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 4.9%.