Initial jobless claims rose 7,000 to a much higher-than-expected level of 320,000 in the February 28 week.

The increase lifts the 4-week average by a steep 10,250 to 304,750. The average is trending roughly 5,000 higher than a month ago in a comparison that does not point to improvement for the labor market.

Non-seasonally-adjusted claims surged 29,361 to 310,000, meaning that 2015 now has the worst start to the year for claims since 2009.

Continuing claims, which are reported with a 1-week lag, are also moving higher, up 17,000 in data for the February 21 week to 2.421 million. The 4-week average is up 4,000 to a 2.404 million level that is slightly higher than a month ago in another comparison that does not point to improvement for the labor market.

The unemployment rate for insured employees is unchanged at 1.8%. 

February is going to look bad, according to the job cut report from global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Planned job cuts declined slightly in February, as US-based employers announced workforce reductions totaling 50,579, 5% fewer than the 53,041 in January.

But the February total was up 21% from a year ago, when employers announced 41,835 job cuts during the month. This marks the third consecutive monthly job-cut total that exceeded the comparable year-ago figure.

Employers announced 103,620 planned layoffs through the first two months of 2015, which is up 19% from the 86,942 job cuts recorded during the same period in 2014.

Once again, the energy sector saw the heaviest job cutting in February, with these firms announcing 16,339 job cuts, due primarily to oil prices.

Falling oil prices have been responsible for 39,621 job cuts, to date. That represents 38% of all recorded workforce reductions announced in the first two months of 2015. In February, 36% of all job cuts (18,299) were blamed on oil prices.

“Oil exploration and extraction companies, as well as the companies that supply them, are definitely feeling the impact of the lowest oil prices since 2009. These companies, while reluctant to completely shutter operations, are being forced to trim payrolls to contain costs,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“While oil-related companies will see profits slide, the net impact of falling oil prices will likely be positive for the economy, as a whole. Some economists are estimating that GDP could see a 0.5%age point boost from low oil prices, due mostly to the extra spending power among consumers. Meanwhile, companies that are big users of oil, such as transportation firms, airlines, and manufacturers of plastic and paint products will see higher profits thanks to cheap oil,” Challenger said.