Fragile Recovery Expectations Shattered By Jobless Claims Jump

September 4, 2003 ( - Just as economists were hoping the US job market was finally beginning to firm up, the latest government report on first-time jobless benefit claims showed just how fragile the employment picture actually is.

According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), the queue for unemployed Americans applying for initial unemployment benefits took an unexpected jump of 15,000 to 413,000 for the week ending August 30, from a revised 398,000 the week before. It was a bit of a surprise for many job-market watchers who had seen the recent run of lower claims as a sign that the economy was finally creating jobs.

The widely watched four-week moving average of initial jobless filings – which irons out short-term volatility – also headed north in the latest week, inching up 4,250 to 401,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 397,250. That broke a string of four consecutive weeks below the 400,000 level.

Economists find particularly worrisome when the jobless figures break through the 400,000 threshold because that is thought to divide a healthy job market from a still slumbering one.

In another sign of the tough time the unemployed face finding jobs, the number of jobless workers still on the benefit rolls after claiming an initial week of aid climbed by 24,000 to 3.66 million in the week ending August 23.

DoL is set to release its August employment report on Friday. Wall Street economists look for non-farm payrolls to inch up 12,000, which would mark the first gain in seven months, according to Reuters.

Economists participating in Reuters’ regular weekly poll for the August 23 week had expected claims to edge down to 390,000 from the 394,000 initially reported . For the August 23 week, the DoL reported that the jobless claims queue rose 3,000 (See    Blackout Carryover Pushes up Jobless Totals ).