Jobless claims in U.S. rise to four-week high amid holiday

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(Bloomberg) — Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits rose more than forecast last week amid holiday-related volatility, while remaining low by historical standards.

Jobless claims rose by 22,000 to a four-week high of 259,000 in the period ended Jan. 21, which included the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median projection of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 247,000.

Even with the increase, companies remain reluctant to fire employees as it becomes tougher to find experienced workers to replace them. A tightening labor market, with rising payrolls and job vacancies near highs for this expansion, may lead to a sustained pickup in wages this year.

The claims figures tend to be more volatile during weeks around holidays, making seasonal adjustments by the Labor Department more difficult.

Jobless claims have remained below 300,000 for 99 consecutive weeks, the longest streak since 1970 and a threshold economists say is indicative of a healthy labor market.

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 235,000 to 270,000. The Labor Department revised the prior week’s reading to 237,000 from an initially reported 234,000.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, declined to 245,500, the lowest since 1973, from 247,500 in the prior week.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits increased by 41,000 to 2.1 million in the week ended Jan. 14. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.5%. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

No states or territories had estimated claims last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.

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