(Reuters) The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting a rapid tightening of the labour market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 236,000 for the week ended Dec. 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised. It was the third straight weekly decline in claims.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 240,000 in the latest week. Last week marked the 144th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold that is associated with a strong labour market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labour market was smaller.
Jobless rate at 17-year low
The labour market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1%. A Labor Department official said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the islands. He said claims processing in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labour market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged down 750 to 241,500 last week. The claims data has no impact on November’s employment report, due to be published on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period.
Temporary dislocation after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma
According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 200,000 in November after surging 261,000 in October. Job growth in October was boosted by the return to work of thousands of employees, mostly in low-wage industries like hospitality and retail, who had been temporarily dislocated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged in November. It has declined by seven-tenths of a percentage point this year.
The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 52,000 to 1.91 million in the week ended Nov. 25. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 1,000 to 1.91 million.