12-28-17 12:21 PM EST | Email Article
By Ben Leubsdorf 

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits held steady last week near historically low levels, the latest evidence of health in the U.S. economy as 2017 draws to a close.

Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., were a seasonally adjusted 245,000 in the week ended Dec. 23, unchanged from the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a modest decline to 240,000 new claims.

"This week's claims data suggest no significant change in labor market conditions from a month ago, and we view them as consistent with healthy labor markets," Barclays economist Blerina Uruci said in a note to clients.

The U.S. economy is ending the year on firm footing. The unemployment rate was 4.1% in November, holding at a 17-year low. Output growth was solid in the second and third quarters, and forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers on Thursday projected a 2.4% growth rate for gross domestic product in the fourth quarter.

"Household spending has been expanding at a moderate rate, business investment has picked up and favorable economic conditions abroad have supported exports," Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said in mid-December. "Overall, we continue to expect that the economy will expand at a moderate pace."

Data on jobless claims can be volatile from week to week, and seasonal adjustments tend to be especially tricky around holidays; Monday was Christmas Day. Also, officials had to estimate claims for more than a dozen states in the latest report.

"We will be watching the data over the coming weeks to try to get a better sense of the underlying trend," JPMorgan Chase economist Daniel Silver said in a note to clients.

After spiking in the wake of several powerful late-summer hurricanes, jobless claims have settled down though the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria are still being felt in some U.S. territories. The Labor Department on Thursday said "claims taking procedures continue to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands" and that the process in Puerto Rico "has still not returned to normal."

Weekly initial unemployment applications have now remained below 300,000 for 147 straight weeks -- the longest such streak since 1970, when the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller than they are today.

The number of claims drawn by workers longer than a week rose by 7,000 to 1.943 million in the week ended Dec. 16. Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.

Write to Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 28, 2017 12:21 ET (17:21 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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