More Americans than projected filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, reflecting the difficulty the government has adjusting the figures around the Easter holiday and spring break at schools.
Jobless claims rose by 28,000 to 385,000 in the week ended March 30, the highest since Nov. 24, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 353,000. Before adjusting for seasonal variations, claims fell by almost 1,600.
The Easter holiday falls on different weeks from year to year, making it a challenge to smooth out swings in the data, a Labor Department spokesman said as the numbers were released. Further progress in the labor market that includes a pickup in the pace of hiring depends on faster economic growth.
“We have seasonal adjustment quirks” that have boosted the figures, said Brian Jones, a senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, who correctly projected the number of claims. “Next week, we expect claims to come right back down. The labor market is okay, it’s fine.”
Stock-index futures pared gains after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in June climbing 0.3% to 1,552.5 at 8:42 a.m. in New York. It had gained as much as 0.5%.
The claims week included Good Friday on March 29 before the Easter holiday, which was earlier than the last four years. Claims for the Virgin Islands and California were estimated, the Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were being released.
The four-week average of claims rose to 354,250 from 343,000.
A report tomorrow from the Labor Department may show employers added 195,000 workers to payrolls in March after 236,000 the month before, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey. The jobless rate is projected to hold at 7.7%.
Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from claims of 330,000 to 400,000.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits fell by 8,000 to 3.06 million in the week ended March 23.
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 decreased by about 106,688 to 1.8 million in the week ended March 16.
The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits, which tends to track the jobless rate, held at 2.4% in the week ended March 23, today’s report showed.
Twenty-nine states and territories reported an increase in claims, while 24 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.
Declining dismissals, combined with a sustained pickup in hiring, are needed help spur consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the economy.
The economy probably expanded at a 3.8% annual rate in the first three months of 2013 and may cool to a 1.5% pace in the second quarter, according to economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his colleagues reiterated March 20 they will press on with monetary easing until the labor market outlook improves “substantially.”
Growing demand will help to sustain employment amid concern about the impact of the automatic federal budget cuts, or sequestration, which were triggered last month as lawmakers failed to reach a compromise on ways to reduce the nation’s deficit.
Motor vehicle sales averaged a 15.26 million annual rate in the January to March period, the best quarterly showing in five years, after 14.99 million in the final three months of 2012, industry figures showed this week.
“The economic picture looks pretty similar to the last couple of months, which helps to explain why the industry has stayed in a relatively healthy range,” Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations for General Motors Co., said on an April 2 conference call.
Some companies are paring staff. Supervalu Inc., the grocery-store operator that sold five brands to a private-equity led group in March, plans to eliminate 1,100 jobs as it trims costs amid falling sales. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based company said the reductions will come from its corporate and store-support offices, including current positions and open jobs that won’t be filled.