WASHINGTON - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays.
The Labor Department said Thursday
that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second
Applications are a proxy for layoffs.
Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut
fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000.
Economists dismissed the spike, saying
it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That
can distort the government's seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues
it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.
The number of people receiving
benefits rose sharply. More than 4.4 million people received unemployment
benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000
more than the previous week. Those figures aren't adjusted for seasonal
Still, hiring has been healthy for the
past four months. The economy added an average of 204,000 jobs a month from
August through November, a solid improvement from earlier in the year. The
unemployment rate fell in November to a five-year low of 7 percent.
The unemployment rate remains above
the historic averages of 5 percent to 6 percent that are associated with strong
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
said Wednesday that he expects the robust job gains to continue. Americans are
spending more and the economy is less restrained by higher taxes and government
spending cuts, he said.
Those trends have "increased our
confidence that the job market gains will continue," Bernanke said at a
The Fed said Wednesday that it would scale back its monthly bond purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion. The
purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more
spending. The cut suggests that Fed policymakers think the job market and
economy will continue to improve even with less help from the Fed.