Weekly jobless claims rose last week but rose less than expected as an economy struggled to shake off the effects of a pandemic that has been around for almost a year.
The Department of Labor reported Thursday that initial unemployment insurance claims for the week ending February 27 were 745,000, seasonally adjusted, slightly below the Dow Jones estimate of 750,000. The total was a slight increase from the previous week’s revised upward of 736,000.
Unusually harsh winter storms in Texas took a toll on the job market, leading to an increase of 17,769 filings for the state, according to unadjusted data. In Ohio and New York, too, the number of claims increased significantly.
Ongoing claims fell again, falling 124,000 to just under 4.3 million, another low in the pandemic era. The data is one week behind the total number of claims.
“We expected a much stronger rebound after the huge winter storm pushed demands down. This reading suggests that the underlying trend in layoffs is declining thanks to the reopening in many states,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
“As always, two good weeks in this volatile series don’t prove anything, but whatever happens next week, we expect the trend to drop sharply in the next few months, provided the new Covid variants don’t trigger a spring wave in cases and before especially for hospital stays. The jury is still not there, “he added.
The report finds itself amid mostly positive signs for the US economy.
While economists had expected slow growth through 2021, followed by an acceleration in the middle of the year, the estimates are quickly being revised upwards. The Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow tracker shows 10% growth in the first quarter.
The definition of the labor market, however, was the missing element in the bigger picture. Although the unemployment rate fell from a pandemic high of 14.8% last April to 6.3% in January, there are still large job gaps.
An ADP report on Wednesday showed that private hiring rose just 117,000 in February, which is below the Dow Jones estimate of 225,000. The Department of Labor is expected to report on Friday that the number of non-farm workers rose by 210,000, although the ADP number adds some downside risk to that number.
There are about 10 million unemployed as of February, and Thursday’s Labor Department report shows that more than 18 million continued to receive some form of unemployment benefit through February 13.
However, that figure fell by just over a million, mainly due to a decrease in the number of participants in special pandemic programs that provide benefits to those who are normally ineligible, as well as to those who have exhausted their regular benefits.
A stimulus package to which Congress will respond includes new allocations for higher unemployment benefits.