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Jobless claims unexpectedly jump last week

April 12, 2012|By Don Lee
  • The number of people filing jobless claims jumped last week. Job seekers at a career fair in Chicago.
The number of people filing jobless claims jumped last week. Job seekers… (Tim Boyle )

Washington — In another setback for the job market, new unemployment claims unexpectedly jumped last week to the highest level since late January.

The Labor Department's weekly report Thursday showed 380,000 new filings for jobless benefits last week, up 13,000 from the prior week. Most analysts were looking for a decline.

While the latest uptick may have been affected by the Easter holiday, it was the second straight week of increased filings. And the less-volatile, four-week moving average in initial jobless claims also bounced higher, to 368,500 -- up 4,250.

The increase in jobless claims suggests a pickup in layoffs, and it comes after the disappointing jobs report for March in which the economy added a modest 120,000 new jobs, barely enough to keep pace with the labor force population growth.

Thursday's report may add to concerns that the labor market -- which gained momentum in the winter -- could be heading for a late spring slump. That's what happened in each of the last two years as hiring waned amid troubles in Europe, higher oil prices and uncertainties about the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

Most analysts believe the recovery now is on firmer ground, but on the heels of the weak job growth in March, the spike in unemployment claims provides another sobering reminder that employers remain intent on holding down labor costs.

"Altogether, the trends in initial jobless claims appear to have flattened out in recent weeks, consistent with the softer rate of payroll growth in the March employment report," said Michael Gapen of Barclays Capital Research in a note to clients. "We look to coming claims reports to see if this is a pause in the broader downward trend, or signs of something more durable in nature."

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