The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week from a seven-month high, pointing to continued improvement in labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 307,000 for the week ended Jan. 17, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
That reversed the bulk of the prior week’s increase which had pushed claims to their highest level since early June, but fell short of economists expectations for a 300,000 reading.
Economists had dismissed the prior week’s increase as “noise” given that claims data is difficult to adjust for seasonal variations around the holidays. Some, however, wondered if some of the elevation in claims reflected layoffs in the oil industry in the wake of plunging crude prices.
“It is unclear at this point whether or not this move up in the trend reflects issues seasonally adjusting the data around the holidays or if it represents a more meaningful deterioration in the labor market,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JP Morgan in New York.
State-level data for the week ending Jan. 10 showed an increase in claims in the oil-producing states like Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota. But claims also rose in states such Missouri, Indiana and Illinois, which are not oil-dependent.
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