Jobless claims drop as U.S. states tally data after break

Fewer Americans than forecast filed claims for unemployment insurance last week as state offices rushed to tally the data in a holiday-shortened period.

Applications for jobless benefits decreased 12,000 to 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. Claims in 19 states and territories were estimated because government office closures on Dec. 24 prevented a complete count, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released.

The level of claims indicates companies are seeing enough demand to maintain headcounts, a necessary development before hiring picks up. To help spur demand, thereby stimulating faster job growth, the Federal Reserve said this month it plans to keep monetary policy accommodative.

“The labor market over the last several months has been pretty resilient given the overall pace of the rest of the economy,” said Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies Group Inc. in New York, which forecast a drop to 355,000. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it continues.” He said seasonal volatility and the large number of estimates makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions.

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in March rose 0.1 percent to 1,415.5 at 8:49 a.m. in New York as lawmakers return to Washington to resume budget talks.

Survey Results

Estimates for first-time claims ranged from 350,000 to 375,000 in the Bloomberg survey of 41 economists. The prior week’s applications were revised to 362,000 from an initially reported 361,000.

The federal holiday on Dec. 24 prompted many state offices to close, making it more difficult to completely tally the data in time, the Labor Department spokesman said. Fourteen states and territories provided their own estimates, which are usually “fairly accurate,” the spokesman said. The Labor department estimated data for the five states that didn’t provide any figures, he said.

The four-week moving average of claims, a less-volatile measure, dropped to 356,750, the lowest since March 2008.

The number of people continuing to collect jobless benefits fell by 32,000 to 3.21 million in the week ended Dec. 15. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of workers receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

Those who’ve used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments increased by about 4,500 to 2.15 million in the week ended Dec. 8.

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