Americans Still Clinging to Jobless Rolls

May 29, 2003 ( - Some 9,000 fewer Americans applied for initial jobless benefits last week, but the number of people already on the unemployment rolls who continue having a tough time finding work was the highest in about 18 months, the government reported.

According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), jobless benefit applications dipped to 424,000 from a revised 433,000 the week before. The four-week moving average – considered a more accurate barometer because it irons out short-term volatility – likewise headed south by 7,250 to 427,000 from 434,250 the week before. This average has remained above the key 400,000 mark for 13 weeks. Economists see the 400,000 mark as the sign of lackluster job market.

Economists in Reuters’ regular survey were expecting 419,000 first-time claims for the week ended May 24 compared with the 428,000 originally reported in the prior week.

The DoL said the number of people being forced to stay on the jobless rolls for the week ending May 17 – the latest available data – was 3.76 million, up 83,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3.68 million.

The Memorial Day holiday-shortened week gave states one fewer day to report their numbers, but the DoL said there is no way to tell what impact that had on the data.

For the May 17 week, a series of tornadoes that slammed into the Midwest helped drive up first-time claims (See    DoL: Midwest Tornadoes Storm Through Job Market ).