Jobless jump shows economic life

February 26, 2015 09:05 AM

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose by the most since December 2013 last week from a week earlier, a sign of uneven progress in the labor market.

Jobless claims increased by 31,000 to 313,000 in the week ending Feb. 21 from a revised 282,000 in the prior period, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg saw claims rising to 290,000.

Looking past the weekly data, which can often be volatile, job-market fundamentals have improved as payroll growth accelerates and Americans stream into the labor force looking for work. Continued improvement will be needed to generate faster wage growth and support consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of the economy.

“We dug ourselves in an enormous hole in the recession, and it’s going to take a long time to climb out of,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report.

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 280,000 to 315,000. The prior week’s claims were revised from an initial reading of 283,000.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, gained to 294,500 from a revised 283,000 the week before.

Continuing Claims

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 21,000 to 2.401 million in the week ended Feb. 14. In that same period, the unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.8%, the report showed.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically decrease before job growth can accelerate. Many layoffs now reflect company-specific causes, such as one-time cost-cutting or business restructuring.

Computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. said 2,800 people were cut from the company in its first quarter ended January. As part of a 2012 restructuring plan, the company has reduced its workforce by about 44,000 people, with a total of 55,000 expected to exit by the completion of its fiscal 2015, which ends in October.

The Palo Alto, California-based company is breaking up to become more responsive to corporate customers and said it will incur about $2 billion in costs over two years related to the split. The split will form two publicly traded companies, one selling corporate equipment and services and the other focused on PCs and printers.

Federal Reserve officials are monitoring improvement in the labor market as they consider the timing of their first interest rate increase since 2006.

“Important progress” has been made toward the Fed’s goal of maximum employment, Chair Janet Yellen said in congressional testimony this week. Still, “too many Americans remain unemployed, wage growth is still sluggish and inflation remains well below our longer-run objectives.”

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