The US Labor Department reported Thursday that initial claims for jobless benefits fell last week, but only after an upward revision to the previous week's data. In the week ended June 16th, 387,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time, down just 2,000 from the prior week's revised total of 389,000. With last week's claims total, it has now been four straight weeks in which claims have hovered around the 380,000 range, bringing into doubt any marked improvement in the labor market.
Last week's figure is key, economists say, because it came as the Labor Dept. was interviewing some 60,000 households across the nation, gathering data for its monthly jobs report for June, which will be revealed on the first Friday in July. With claims stuck above 375,000 all through June, economists do not expect the US unemployment rate, currently at 8.2 percent, to change. As for job growth, economists in a recent Reuters poll projected that the June jobs report will show a gain of 85,000 jobs, on average, a slight improvement over May's jobs gain of 69,000.
Initial jobless claims are a widely observed indicator of the nation's labor sector, and inspired optimism earlier in the year when claims fell to multi-year lows. Economists were also buoyed earlier this year when the economy added an average of 250,000 jobs per month between December and February, but job gains have slipped since March and claims have been steadily picking up. Some economists prefer to focus on the four-week moving average of claims, which is designed to smooth over some of the volatility that occasionally affects the weekly data, but that number, too, has been rising.