Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

Nation / World News

May 17, 2012

US unemployment aid applications stay at 370,000

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

rate.

"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

job.

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

weakening.

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.

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