Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits last week rose less than economists forecast as the number of dismissals stayed consistent with a firm labor market.
Initial jobless claims increased by 6,000 to 265,000 in the period ended March 19, a Labor Department report showed March 24. The median forecast of 42 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for 269,000.
Hiring managers are demonstrating a preference to maintain and build staff as domestic demand continues to hold up. Tighter employment conditions are helping to buoy the economic outlook in the face of sluggish overseas growth.
“There’s a cautious optimism” among hiring managers even amid weaker overseas growth prospects, said David Sloan, senior economist at 4Cast Inc. in New York. “Things may slow a little as the year goes, but we’ve got a pretty healthy picture in the labor market.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 260,000 to 280,000. The Labor Department revised the prior week’s reading to 259,000 from an initially reported 265,000.
Initial filings have been below 300,000 for 55 weeks, the longest stretch since 1973 and a level economists say is consistent with a healthy labor market.
The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, was little changed at 259,750 compared with 259,500 in the prior week.
No states were estimated last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits declined by 39,000 to 2.18 million in the week ended March 12. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.6%. These data are reported with a one-week lag.
The March 24 report also included annual revisions for both initial and continuing claims back through 2011.
Payroll gains have remained solid. The economy added 242,000 workers last month and the unemployment rate held at an eight-year low of 4.9%. March data are scheduled for April 1 release from the Labor Department.
Federal Reserve officials meeting last week in Washington pointed to “additional strengthening of the labor market” even as they held off on raising the benchmark interest rate from its range of 0.25% to 0.5%.
The central bankers also downgraded forecasts for how high interest rates will rise in 2016, citing risks from weaker global growth and financial-market turmoil.