December 19, 2019 11:30 AM, EST

US Jobless Claims Slide but Miss Forecasts for Bigger Drop

Job seekers at a career fairJob seekers wait in a line for an interview at the San Francisco Career Fair & Job Fair in Burlingame, Calif., on March 14, 2019. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week by the most since February but missed forecasts for a larger drop, potentially reflecting lingering seasonal-adjustment issues stemming from the late Thanksgiving holiday this year.

Jobless claims dropped by 18,000 to 234,000 in the week ended Dec. 14, according to Labor Department figures released Dec. 19. The median estimate in Bloomberg’s survey of economists was for 225,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 225,500, the highest since February.

Jobless claims graph

Key Insights

  •  Even though more Americans than projected filed for jobless benefits, claims remain near the lowest in about a half century, and other labor indicators have been largely healthy. While analysts tend to dismiss swings in the figures around this time of year, a failure to return to the recent trend could spur concern about the economy.
  •  The report follows a 49,000 jump in claims in the first week of December, amid challenges for statisticians in making seasonal adjustments to the data due to the late timing of the Thanksgiving holiday in November.
  •  The report is likely to get more scrutiny than usual because the week included the 12th of the month, which makes it the reference period for the Labor Department’s December jobs report due Jan. 10.
  •  A separate report Dec. 19 showed the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s regional manufacturing index fell to a six-month low in December, indicating manufacturing remains subdued, though respondents are optimistic for the coming months.
  •  Continuing claims, reported with a one-week lag, rose 51,000 to 1.72 million in the week ended Dec. 7. That’s the highest level since August.
  •  On an unadjusted basis, claims were about 14,000 above the level from the comparable week a year earlier.
  •  The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held steady at 1.2%.

Jordan Yadoo contributed to this report.

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