WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose only modestly last week, indicating the labor market remained on solid footing despite slowing economic growth.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 291,000 for the week ended March 14, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Claims for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 292,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.
Claims have bounced around for much of the winter as harsh weather either depressed or boosted filings. But through the volatility, the trend remained consistent with a strengthening jobs market.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,250 to 304,750 last week.
The claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed employers for the March nonfarm payrolls report.
The four-week moving average of claims rose 21,750 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting payrolls could ease a bit from last month's lofty level.
The economy added 295,000 jobs in February, with the jobless rate falling to a more than 6-1/2-year low of 5.5 percent. February marked the 12th straight month that employment gains have been above 200,000, the longest such run since 1994.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday maintained its upbeat view of the labor market, and signaled it was nearing an interest rate increase by dropping the reference to being "patient" from its so-called forward guidance.
Despite the weather-related volatility in claims, job growth appears to have been little affected by the frigid conditions which chilled retail sales and home building last month.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 11,000 to 2.42 million in the week ended March 7.
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