US jobless benefits increase beyond forecast
WASHINGTON: New applications for US jobless benefits increased more than expected last week, but the number of Americans on unemployment rolls fell to its lowest level since 1973, pointing to diminishing labour market slack.
Other data on Thursday showed an acceleration in mid-atlantic factory activity this month, with manufacturers saying they were boosting employment and asking for higher prices for their products. The combination of a tightening labour market and firming inflation bolsters expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month.
“The US labour market is headed toward becoming the tightest in recent memory,” said Kathryn Asher, an economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended May 12, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 215,000 in the latest week.
The labour market is viewed as being close to or at full employment, with the jobless rate near a 17-1/2-year low of 3.9 per cent and within striking distance of the Fed’s forecast of 3.8 per cent by the end of this year. The US central bank raised rates in March and forecast at least two more hikes for this year.
The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 87,000 to 1.71 million in the week ended May 5, the lowest level since December 1973. Declining continuing claims underscore tightening labour market conditions and support economists’ expectations that wage growth will accelerate in the second half of the year.
The labour market and regional factory data added to strong reports this week on consumer spending and industrial production in suggesting that economic growth was picking up early in the second quarter after slowing at the start of the year.
Growth estimates for the second quarter are around a 3.0 per cent annualized rate. The economy grew at a 2.3 per cent rate in the January-march period.
A report from the Conference Board on Thursday showed its leading economic index, a gauge of future US economic activity, increased 0.4 per cent in April after a similar gain in March. That indicates strong growth should continue into the second half of the year.
Job-seekers line up to apply during a recruitment fair in New York.