Jobless Claims Rise by 12,000 in Latest Week

March 6, 2003 ( - In a sign that the US job market continues to stumble, the number of Americans filing for initial jobless claims last week took an unexpectedly big jump to the highest level since December.

According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), claims for the week ending March 1 spiked up by 12,000 from a revised 418,000 to 430,000. The DoL said some of the increase could be attributed to recent severe winter weather along the East Coast.

The March 1 report reflected the third straight claims hike. The DOL said claims jumped to 417,000 for the week ending February 22, from a revised 406,000 the previous week (See Jobless Totals Highest Since Mid-December ).

The rise in jobless claims for the March 1 week was bigger than expected. Economists in the regular Reuters poll forecast, on average, that initial claims would edge down to 404,000, still above the key 400,000 mark. Most economists consider the 400,000 claims figure to be a sign of a weak labor market.

The four-week moving average, considered a better guage of labor conditions because it smoothes out weekly fluctuations, also jumped to 408,750 from a revised 400,000, the DoL said. That was also the highest level since December.

The government is scheduled to release its monthly employment rate data on Friday. The Reuters economists predict a scant 8,000 increase in non-farm jobs. The unemployment rate is expected to rise to 5.9% from 5.7%.

Another sign of the continued weak labor market came from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which announced that planned job cuts in February were 138,177, up 5% from January (See Job Cuts At Highest Level Since November, Firm Says ).