WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that should underpin the economy as growth slows.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 212,000 for the week ended May 11, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised.
Claims had been stuck at higher levels for three straight weeks, reflecting difficulties stripping out seasonal fluctuations from the data around moving holidays like Easter, Passover and school spring breaks.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would fall to 220,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 4,750 to 225,000 last week.
The labor market is strong, with the unemployment rate near a 50-year low of 3.6%. The robust job market is supporting the economy as the boost from the White House’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades and President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war with China disrupts supply chains at factories, which are already struggling with an inventory bloat that has cut production.
Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 28,000 to 1.66 million for the week ended May 4. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 1,500 to 1.67 million.