WASHINGTON: The number of Americans who applied for jobless benefits last week rose to the highest level in 2½ months, partly because some school workers can file claims during spring break.
Weekly jobless claims jumped by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 380,000 in the week ended April 7, the highest level since late January, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.
Much of the increase was related to spring break, when many school bus drivers and cafeteria workers are allowed to file for temporary unemployment benefits.
Some economists also say the Labor Department might not have done a good job of making seasonal adjustments for the Easter holiday.
Yet claims from two weeks ago were also revised sharply higher — to 367,000 from 357,000. That’s an unusually large adjustment and could signal a slight deterioration in the labor market.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would total 359,000 in the latest week. The level of claims is a rough gauge of whether layoffs are rising or falling.
The average of new claims in the past four weeks, seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends, rose by a smaller 4,250 to 368,500. That’s still the highest level in a month, however. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data.
Applications for unemployment benefits usually range from 300,000 to 400,000 when the economy is expanding, but the recent uptick has halted a downward trend that started last winter. The latest claims data, along with March’s employment report, suggest the labor market might have softened.
Joshua Shapiro, chief economist of MFR Inc., said the rise in claims could just be “statistical noise,” but he said investors should watch the data “very closely in the weeks ahead.”
In a separate report Thursday, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit fell by the largest amount in almost three years as imports declined.
The drop in imports likely means the U.S. grew faster in the first quarter than the current MarketWatch forecast of 2.0 percent. Several economists raised their estimates after the trade report.
Higher imports subtract from gross domestic product; lower imports add to the growth figures.