Jobless claims up 8,000 last week

The number of initial jobless claims rose last week, but stayed below 400,000 once again. Claims continue to hover near the lowest level in four years.

The Labor Department said the seasonally adjusted figure of actual initial claims for the week ended March 3 increased to 362,000 from 354,000 the previous week, which was revised upward 3,000.

Analysts surveyed by Econoday expected 351,000 new jobless claims last week with a range of estimates between 345,000 and 360,000. Most economists believe initial claims lower than 400,000 indicate a strengthening employment situation. Claims have been lower than this threshold for most of the past four months.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas said the number of planned layoffs by American firms in February fell 3.3% from the prior month and rose 2% from a year earlier. Still, the pace of job cuts in 2012 is up 18% from the first two months of 2011.  

The company said cuts by the government accounted for much of the job losses last year, while layoffs in the consumer products and transportation sectors dominated cuts so far in 2012.

“It is too soon to say that the government sector is out of the woods when it comes to layoffs,” according to said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “However, recent gains in employment across many states are undoubtedly helping to boost payroll tax revenue. Furthermore, many states and local municipalities have already cut to the bone and may have little room for additional cuts. The biggest threat for increased government job cuts remains the federal government, which is still under pressure to cut deficits and bring spending under control.”

The four-week moving average of jobless claims, which is a less volatile indicator than weekly claims, increased by a mere 250 claims last week to 355,000 from the prior week’s slightly revised 354,750.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate for the week ended Feb. 25 stayed at 2.7%, according to the Labor Department.

The total number of people receiving some sort of federal unemployment benefits for the week ended Feb. 18 fell to nearly 7.39 million from 7.49 million the prior week.

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