The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose last week, a government report showed on Thursday, but not enough to change perceptions that the labor market was strengthening.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 362,000, the Labor Department said. Even with the increase, claims are still near their lowest in four years.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged at 351,000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, edged up 250 to 355,000 — still near a four-year low.
"We remain in this lower range as far as the jobless claims are concerned and most analysts are looking forward to at least a moderately encouraging payrolls report tomorrow," said Nick Bennenbroek, head of currency strategy at Wells Fargo in New York.
Stock index futures held gains on the data, while bond prices were little changed. The dollar pared gains against the yen.
Despite the rise in claims last week, labor market conditions are improving and the government is expected to report on Friday that the economy had a third straight month of solid job gains in February.
Nonfarm employment likely increased 210,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 243,000 in January. The unemployment rate is seen holding at a three-year low of 8.3 percent in February.
Data on Wednesday showed private employers stepped up hiring in February. That improving labor market tone was reinforced by other data on Thursday showing planned layoffs at companies declined 3.3 percent in February.
Still, the recovery in the labor market remains painfully slow. The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 10,000 to 3.42 million in the week ended February 25.
In January, about 43 percent of the 12.8 million unemployed Americans had been out of work for more than 6 months, a major cause of concern for the Federal Reserve.
Moreover, 23.8 million people are either out of work or underemployed and there are no job openings for nearly three out of every four unemployed people.
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