Pauls Valley, Oklahoma —
The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment
benefits was unchanged last week, suggesting modest but steady gains
in the job market.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment aid
applications stayed at a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the same level
as the previous week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure,
fell from roughly 380,000 to 375,000.
Applications for benefits surged in April to a five-month high of
392,000. They have fallen back since then and are near the lowest
levels in four years.
The decline suggests hiring could pick up in May after slumping in the
previous two months. When applications drop below 375,000 a week, it
generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment
"Although another decline would have been preferred, the results
weren't that bad," said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital
Markets, in a note to clients. "It does raise the possibility that we
may see a pickup in hiring in May."
The unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.1
percent last month. Part of the reason for the drop is that employers
have added a million jobs over the past five months. But it has also
declined because some people gave up looking for work. The government
only counts people as unemployed if they are actively looking for a
The pace of hiring slowed sharply in March and April, to an average of
135,000 jobs per month. That raised fears that the job market is
But economists have cautioned that a warm winter led companies to move
up some hiring and accelerate other activity that normally wouldn't
occur until spring. That gave the appearance that the economy had
strengthened in January and February and weakened in early spring.
And temporary layoffs stemming from spring holidays likely pushed
unemployment benefit applications higher in April, economists noted.