(Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
WASHINGTON -- First-time jobless claims rose last week for the second straight week, but few analysts were worried that it signaled a shift in the recently improved labor market.
The Labor Department said Thursday that 357,000 people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits in the week ended last Saturday. That was up from a revised 341,000 in the prior week and 334,000 in the one before that.
Analysts were expecting the number of jobless claims to tick up after falling in recent weeks, but not by so much. The week-to-week data can be highly volatile. The more reliable four-week moving average of jobless claim filings also edged up, to 343,000 from 340,750 in the prior week, but is still close to five-year lows.
Jobless claims track layoffs, which have trended down as many employers continue to operate with lean staff. Businesses have picked up the pace of hiring in recent months, and analysts did not change their forecast for the job market based on Thursday's report.
Still, economists are keeping a careful eye out for signs of weakening job growth as the economy starts to absorb the fiscal spending cuts under the so-called sequestration and workers continue to adjust to smaller pay checks after the expiration of the payroll tax holiday.
"Though it appears that so far consumers have shrugged off the tax hikes that went into effect on January 1, we're skeptical that can last, especially with layoffs and furloughs related to the sequester looming in the next few weeks," said Marisa Di Natale, an economist at Moody's Analytics.
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Job growth has accelerated since summer, averaging close to 200,000 a month since September. In a research note Thursday, Di Natale said Moody's was expecting job growth to continue to come in around 200,000 when the March employment report is released April 5.
But, she added, "for the second and third quarters, we expect average monthly job gains to slow to around 130,000 per month."
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