WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for jobless insurance was unchanged last week, according to government data on Thursday that showed the labor market was slowly healing.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits were flat at a seasonally adjusted 505,000 in the week ended November 14, the Labor Department said. However, the four-week moving average of claims dropped to its lowest in almost a year.
New applications for aid have been grinding lower in recent weeks, indicating a slowdown in the pace of layoffs. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast new claims edging up to 505,000 last week from a previously reported 502,000.
"It is headed in the right direction. They were a little high, but the continuing claims coming down and the initial claims staying down is additional evidence that the labor market is stabilizing," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York.
U.S. stock index futures held their losses after the data, while prices for government bonds nudged higher.
New jobless claims are being watched for signs of when job losses might bottom. Applications have dropped significantly from March's lofty levels, but remain above the 400,000 mark that analysts say would signal payrolls growth.
Analysts noted that last week's jobless claims data, which covers the survey period for the government's November non-farm payrolls report due on December 4, suggested job losses would be smaller that month than in October, when payrolls fell 190,000.
The U.S. economy resumed growth in the last quarter, driven largely by government stimulus, and there are fears that labor market distress could hamper the recovery.
The four-week moving average for new claims fell 6,500 to 514,000 last week, the lowest since November last year and declining for the 11th straight week.
The four-week moving average is considered a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility.
The number of workers still collecting benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 39,000 to 5.61 million in the week ended November 7, the lowest since March. This was in line with market expectations for 5.60 million.
So-called continuing claims have fallen from a peak of 6.9 million in June and the drop is likely the combination of fewer new applications for unemployment aid and many jobless workers exhausting their benefits.
The number of people on extended benefit programs rose 17,170 to 540,665 in the week ended October 31, according to the latest available data.
The four-week moving average of continuing claims declined 83,500 to 5.71 million. The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, was steady at 4.3 percent in the week ended November 7.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Additional reporting by Chris Reese in New York, Editing by Andrea Ricci)