WASHINGTON – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits held last week near the lowest level in almost four months, a sign the labor market continues to strengthen.
Jobless claims increased by 5,000 to 320,000 in the week ended March 15, a Labor Department report showed Thursday. The median forecast of 51 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 322,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to the lowest level since late November.
A slowdown in dismissals may pave the way for employers to take on more workers once demand accelerates. Federal Reserve policymakers said Wednesday that there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor-market conditions, even as economic activity slowed during the winter months.
Claims remain extremely encouraging, said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, N.Y. They’re signaling that the net slowing in payrolls gains in the last few months is weather-related and temporary, and we’re due for some catch-up in payrolls.