US jobless claims fall unexpectedly as labour market tightens

A man carrying a stack of job listings listens to a discussion at the One Stop employment centre in San Francisco August 12, 2009. — Reuters pic
A man carrying a stack of job listings listens to a discussion at the One Stop employment centre in San Francisco August 12, 2009. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, June 7 — The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, pointing to a further tightening in labour market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended June 2, the Labour Department said today. Claims data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 225,000 in the latest week. The Labour Department said claims for Maine were estimated last week and that claims-taking procedures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had still not returned to normal after last year’s devastating hurricanes.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, viewed as a better measure of labour market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,750 to 225,500 last week.

The labour market is considered to be close to or at full employment. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 223,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate dropped to an 18-year low of 3.8 per cent.

The jobless rate, which has declined by three-tenths of a percentage point this year, is now at a level where the Federal Reserve projected it would be by the end of this year.

Layoffs have remained very low amid signs of growing worker shortages across all sectors of the economy. Data on Tuesday showed there were a record 6.7 million job openings in April. The number of unemployed people per vacancy slipped to 0.9 from 1.0 in March.

Rapidly tightening labour market conditions and firming inflation have cemented expectations the Fed will raise interest rates next week. Many economists believe the U.S. central bank will hike rates two more times after its June 12-13 policy meeting to prevent the economy from overheating.

The Fed lifted borrowing costs in March and forecast at least two more rate increases for this year.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 21,000 to 1.74 million in the week ended May 26. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims dropped 13,250 to 1.73 million, the lowest level since December 1973. — Reuters

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