Jobless claims fall sharply, boosting job market cheer

Jobless claims filed by US workers fell more than expected last week, offering fresh evidence that the labor market is gathering steam. Jobless claims fell 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 283,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Mike Groll/AP/File
Erin Wilson, of Hannaford Bros. supermarket company, left, talks with a job seeker during a job fair Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y. Jobless claims in the US fell more than expected last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, offering fresh evidence that the labor market was gathering steam.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 283,000 for the week ended Feb. 14, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

The prior week's data was unrevised. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 293,000 last week.

A Labor Department analyst said the department had estimated the claims data for Tennessee, where offices were closed on Tuesday because of bad weather.

A shortened work week due to Monday's Presidents Day holiday could also have contributed to the unexpectedly bigger decline in claims. Still, the underlying trend continues to point to a strengthening labor market.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 6,500 to 283,250 last week.

Prices for longer-dated U.S. Treasuries declined further after the data, while stock index futures were mixed. The dollar held onto modest gains.

The data covered the week that the government surveyed employers for February's nonfarm payrolls.

The four-week moving average of claims fell 23,750 between the January and February survey period, suggesting another month of job gains above 200,000.

The economy has added more than a million jobs over the past three months, a performance last seen in 1997. A key measure of labor market slack - the number of job seekers for every open position - hit its lowest level since 2007 in December.

Most economists believe that tightening labor market conditions will trump the Federal Reserve's concerns over low inflation, allowing the U.S. central bank to raise interest rates in June.

Minutes of the Fed's Jan. 27-28 policy meeting published on Wednesday, however, suggested policymakers were not in a hurry to hike borrowing costs because of concerns over low inflation and a weakening global economy.

The U.S. central bank has kept its key short-term interest rate near zero since December 2008.

Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 58,000 to 2.43 million in the week ended Feb. 7.

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