WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased less than expected last week, pointing to continued labor market strength that could keep the country’s longest economic expansion on track.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 205,000 for the week ended Feb. 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims fell in the prior week to 203,000, which was the lowest reading since November.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 210,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for Alabama were estimated last week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, was unchanged at 212,000 last week.
The government reported last week that the economy created 225,000 jobs in January after adding 147,000 positions in December. The unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.6% as more people entered the labor force, a sign of confidence in their job prospects.
Despite strong job growth and low layoffs, there are signs labor market momentum could slow this year. A government report on Tuesday showed job openings dropped for a second straight month in December, hitting a two-year low.
Labor market strength is helping to sustain consumer spending, and supporting the economy, which is now in its 11th year of expansion. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week that the “economy is in a very good place, performing well,” but added there were risks from the coronavirus. The virus, which has killed hundreds of people in China and spread to other countries, has led economists to downgrade their growth estimates for the Chinese economy.
Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 61,000 to 1.70 million for the week ended Feb. 1. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims dropped 17,500 to 1.73 million.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)