The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits declined more than forecast last week, returning to a level that’s consistent with an improving labor market.
Initial jobless claims dropped 36,000 to a three-week low of 289,000 in the period ended March 7 from a revised 325,000 in the prior week, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 305,000 new applications.
The slump in claims indicates the elevated readings in previous weeks were probably due to companies temporarily dismissing workers because of inclement winter weather, rather than underlying weakness in the labor market. Employers in February added more workers than forecast and the jobless rate declined to the lowest level in almost seven years, the Labor Department said last week. “We’re still in the sweet spot,” Gennadiy Goldberg, a strategist at TD Securities LLC in New York, said before the report. “The big story has become job gains rather than job losses.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 49 economists ranged from 280,000 to 325,000 after a previously reported 320,000 claims a week earlier. There was nothing unusual in the data and no states estimated the number of filings, according to the agency.
Another report Thursday from the Commerce Department showed retail sales unexpectedly declined for a third month in February. Purchases fell 0.6 percent after a 0.8 percent slump.
Details for the last week of February showed winter storms and cold weather were partly to blame for the surge in jobless claims. Tennessee’s state employment agency mentioned weather as a reason behind an increase, while New York officials pointed to layoffs in education and transportation services.