Ahead of the Bell: US Unemployment Benefits

More Americans likely sought jobs less aide last week; claims remain at pre-recession levels

Associated Press
Applications for US jobless aid up 16K to 326,000
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FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2014, file photo, job seekers sign in before meeting prospective employers during a career fair at a hotel in Dallas. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims, on Thursday, April 3, 2014. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week. The report will be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Thursday.

INCREASE LIKELY: Economists expect that the number of people seeking benefits rose 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, according to a survey by FactSet. Applications fell in the previous report to 300,000, the lowest level in almost seven years.

EASTER SURPRISE: The number of people seeking jobless aide has stayed at pre-recession levels for several months. Because applications are a proxy for layoffs, the current level of jobless claims is a sign that employers expect economic growth to continue and are holding onto their workers.

But the stunning drop to 300,000 applications in the previous weekly report might have been a quirk of the Easter holiday, which changes from year-to-year and may have distorted seasonal adjustments. Those same seasonal adjustments could cause applications to rise in the upcoming report, even if the underlying trend of fewer layoffs remains relatively stable.

Hiring has accelerated as applications for jobless aid have fallen to their current levels.

Employers added 192,000 jobs in March, according to a separate government report. That follows gains of 197,000 in February, as the unemployment rate stayed at 6.7 percent for the second straight months.

Severe winter storms in January and December shut down factories, kept shoppers away from stores, and reduced home buying. That reduced hiring and overall economic growth. Employers added 129,000 jobs in January and only 84,000 in December.

More jobs and higher incomes will be needed to spur better overall economic growth. For now, economists expect the bad weather contributed to weak growth of 1.5 percent to 2 percent at an annual rate in the January-March quarter. But as the weather improves, most analysts expect growth to rebound to near 3 percent.

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