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U.S. jobless claims rise to five-week high

New applications for unemployment benefits up 8,000 to 362,000

New applications for unemployment benefits rose to the highest level in five weeks, but they remained in a range usually associated with better labor-market conditions, government data showed Thursday.

Initial claims climbed by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 362,000 in the week ended March 3, the Labor Department said. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 354,000 from 351,000 previously.

The level of claims is an indicator of whether layoffs are rising or falling. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had estimated claims would rise to 355,000 for last week.

On Wall Street, investors took the claims data in stride and stocks moved higher.

The four-week average of claims, meanwhile, was virtually unchanged at 355,000, which is near a four-year low. The monthly average provides a more accurate view of labor-market trends by reducing week-to-week gyrations caused by seasonal quirks.

Hiring usually picks up when applications for jobless benefits drop below 400,000, based on longstanding patterns. New applications for jobless benefits have fallen under that mark in 16 of the past 18 weeks, correlating with an increase in net U.S. job growth over that span.

“The trend for jobless claims has been a steady decline, which suggests the pace of hiring will continue to improve,” said economist Yelena Shulyatyeva of BNP Paribas.

Yet the relationship between hiring and weekly claims, which seldom drop below 300,000 even in the best of times, is somewhat loose. The government’s monthly employment report provides a much clearer picture of hiring trends.

The jobs report for February, to be issued Friday morning, is expected to show a 213,000 net increase in U.S. hiring last month. The economy added 243,000 jobs in the initial report for January, though that number will be revised. A 200,000-plus gain in February would be in keeping with recent trends.

While companies have stepped up hiring, the U.S. has a long way to go to repair the damage from the deep 2007-2009 recession. Nearly 6 million jobs that were lost during the downturn have not returned, and the unemployment rate is still high at 8.3%.

At the current rate of hiring, the jobless rate would not return to pre-recession levels of around 5% to 6% for at least three to four years.

Also Thursday, the Labor Department said continuing claims increased by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.42 million in the week ended Feb. 25. The data are reported with a one-week lag.

Continuing claims, which reflect people already receiving benefits, are handled by the states and typically last 26 weeks.

About 7.39 million people received some kind of state or federal benefit in the week ended Feb. 18, down 111,222 from the prior week. Total claims are not seasonally adjusted.

“Jobless claims rise to 5-week high “

“February layoff announcements fall 3% “

Private-sector jobs pick up steam

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