Number of jobless claims jump last week

Friday, January 7, 2005

The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits shot up last week, highlighting the sometimes uneven nature of the recovery taking place in the labor market.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance jumped by a seasonally adjusted 43,000 to 364,000, the highest level since late September. The over-the-week increase of 43,000 was the most since the end of March 2002.

The latest snapshot of the labor market activity surprised economists. They were forecasting claims to rise last week to around 331,000. However, in a more positive note, the number of claims that had been filed in the prior week turned out to have fallen by 10,000, according to revised figures. That drop was twice as big as initially reported.

"Even though we are in an expansion phase, the jobless claims statistics continue to come in very choppy," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

The more stable, four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, rose last week by a smaller 750 to 333,000.

Labor Department analysts cautioned that jobless claims figures around the holidays can swing widely from week to week. In these cases, the four-week moving average is sometimes a better barometer of labor market activity, they said.

On Wall Street, investors took the latest figures on jobless claims in stride. The Dow Jones industrials were up 42 points in morning trading.

Locally, state research analyst Bob Goulson with the Employment and Security Department, said that claims have risen here, too, though the state doesn't track figures on a week-to-week basis, claiming that it's not as accurate of a snapshot.

"I don't see it as significant at this point in time, but at the same time, they are going up, that's a fact," he said.

In December, the number of claims for Cape Girardeau County was at 535, up from 281 in November. In Scott County, claims were at 486, up from 343. In Perry County, claims were at 156, up from 100 in November.

But Goulson said that December is a slow month for construction workers, who often file unemployment claims. Also, companies that hire extra Christmas help often let that help go, which adds to the increase. Employers who are going to have layoffs often do it in December for tax benefits as well, he said.

Staff writer Scott Moyers contributed to this report.

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