Fewer Americans than projected filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, indicating an improving outlook for the labor market.
Jobless claims decreased by 27,000, the most in a month, to 341,000 in the week ended Feb. 9, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The level of filings was lower than any projection in a Bloomberg survey in which the median forecast was 360,000.
A slower pace of dismissals indicates demand is strong enough for companies to maintain headcounts, a necessary first step toward bigger job and income gains needed to spur consumer spending. Further strides in employment would augment advances in the stock market and housing, helping ease the burden of higher payroll taxes on household budgets.
“The labor market is improving but only at a very steady pace,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, who had the lowest forecast in the Bloomberg survey. “What we need is an acceleration in hiring to move the unemployment rate lower.”
Stock-index futures pared losses after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in March dropping 0.2% to 1,514.2 at 8:49 a.m. in New York. The contract had been down as much as 0.5%.
Jobless claims for Connecticut and Illinois were estimated by the Labor Department, a spokesman said as the figures were being released. Connecticut has since relayed its figures to the Labor Department, and they were close to the agency’s estimates, he said.
Estimates of the 49 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 350,000 to 375,000 claims. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure to 368,000 from a previously reported 366,000.
The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, rose to 352,500 last week from 351,000.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits declined 130,000 to 3.11 million in the week ended Feb. 2, the lowest level since July 2008.
The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans 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 255,000 to 2.08 million in the week ended Jan. 26.
The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits, which tends to track the jobless rate, fell to 2.4% in the week ended Feb. 2, from 2.5% in the prior week, today’s report showed.
Thirty-five states and territories reported an increase in claims, while 18 reported a decrease. These data are reported with a one-week lag.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to fall as job growth -- measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls report -- accelerates.
Monster Worldwide Inc., an Internet-recruiting service, said fourth-quarter sales fell 10%, and the businesses it serves remain cautious about adding workers even as the economy improves.
Clients “are continuing to be very conservative in adding new staff and making new investments,” Sal Iannuzzi, chairman and chief executive officer of the New York-based company, said on a Feb. 7 earnings call. In the U.S., “we do signs of recovery, but they are very tentative.”
“We are hopeful that a reduction in the uncertainty around the debt ceiling and budget negotiations may produce a lower risk environment as the year progresses,” he said.
Employers added 157,000 workers to payrolls in January after hiring a revised 196,000 the month before, and the unemployment rate climbed to 7.9%, Labor Department figures showed Feb. 1.