The latest US Department of Labor (DoL) reading was significantly higher than the revised 407,000 the week before (See Jobless Totals Down; Still Above 400,000 Watermark)and was well above a forecast of 410,000 initial benefits claims from economists participating in Reuters’ weekly poll. It is the highest since the week ending April 13, 2002 when it stood at 452,000.
The closely watched four-week moving average for the March 29 week – a more reliable barometer of employment market trends because it smoothes short-term fluctuations – likewise rose. Moving to 426,250 from 422,500 the previous week.
However, the dark cloud in the March 29 report was that the total was above the 400,000 watermark for the seventh straight week – the longest string of above-400,000 totals since August-September 2002. The 400,000 benchmark is generally considered a sign of a moribund job market.
Economists point to many executives reluctant to bring on new employees or commit to significant capital outlays because of continuing uncertainty over the outcome of the Iraq war as a reason for the prolonged higher jobless figures. Also, this week’s rise was due in small part to a massive snowstorm in Colorado the third week of March.