According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), first-time unemployment claims dropped 24,000 to 344,000 in the week ending February 14 from a revised 368,000 the previous week (See Jobless Claims Tick up by 6,000 ). The drop was the largest since the week ending November 1. A rise in initial claims in the prior two weeks had been pinned on unseasonably cold weather in the Southeast, which kept construction workers off the job.
The closely watched four-week moving average – that flattens out short-term volatility – rose slightly to 352,000 from 351,750 the week before.
Job gains have averaged just 73,000 over the last five months, well shy of the 150,000 or so new positions needed monthly just to keep up with labor force growth.
One potential danger signal in the latest government data was that the number of unemployed forced to cling to the jobless rolls because of trouble finding work rose by a sharp 106,000 to 3.19 million in the February 7 week, the latest for which figures are available.
Economists participating in Reuters weekly survey had looked for claims to fall to 353,000 from the 363,000 originally reported for the prior week.