Jobless Claims Jump for First Time in a Month

January 8, 2004 ( - The government reported Thursday that the number of jobless Americans applying for initial unemployment benefits took its first hike in a month - rising by 14,000 last week.

According to the US Department of Labor, the number of unemployed workers asking for first-time benefits rose to 353,000 for the week ending January 3, up from a revised 339,000 the previous week (See   Jobless Claims Plummet to Early 2001 Levels ).

The widely watched four-week moving average, a better gauge of labor market trends because it irons out short-term fluctuations, dropped 5,500 to 350,250, the lowest since February 2001. Even the number of unemployed people forced to cling to the jobless rolls was down by 12,000 to 3.27 million for the week ended December 27.

Labor analysts are also eagerly awaiting Friday’s release of the December employment report, which is expected to show a hefty rise in payroll jobs last month.   Analysts in a Reuters survey estimated that the economy generated 130,000 new jobs in December, picking up steam from a rise of 57,000 reported the previous month.

Overall claims, which inched lower during the fourth quarter of 2003, could keep a lid on a 5.9% US jobless rate for December.

The Wall Street economists had forecast claims for the January 3 week to rise to 350,000.