The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits declined last week, but the four-week moving average has hit a new high in a year, suggesting that the job market was in the process of to slow down.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by 23,000 to 216,000 seasonally adjusted for the week ended Feb. 16, the Department of Labor said Thursday.
But the Ministry of Labor said compensation claims for California, Virginia, Hawaii and Puerto Rico were estimated last week because of Monday's presidents' holidays. This could have exaggerated the decline in the number of claims.
Economists polled by Reuters forecast a drop in the number of claims to 229,000 last week. The four-week moving average of initial claims, seen as a better measure of labor market trends by avoiding week-to-week volatility, increased from 4,000 to 235,750 last week, its highest level since January 2018.
The claims data covered the week of the survey for the non-farm pay portion of the February employment report. The four-week average of claims increased by 15,250 between the January and February survey periods, suggesting a slowdown in the pace of job growth this month. The payroll jumped by 304,000 jobs in January, the highest in 11 months, following an increase of 222,000 in December.
The claims report indicated that the number of people receiving benefits after a first week of assistance had dropped from 55,000 to 1.73 million for the week ended February 9th. The four-week moving average of these so-called continuing claims increased from 2,750 to 1.75 million.