DANIEL WAGNER, AP Business Writer
WASHINGTON – The number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly surged last week after having fallen sharply in the previous week. The gain dampened hopes about how quickly the labor market may improve this year.
The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000.
The increase followed a drop of 41,000 in the previous week which had raised hopes that the labor market could be improving. There have been 8.4 million jobs lost since the recession began in December 2007.
Thursday’s news deflated analysts’ hopes that new claims would continue to decline. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected new claims to fall modestly.
Still, the four-week average for claims dipped 1,500 to 467,500, near the lows that were reached at the end of last year. The average is considered a more stable indicator because it smooths out the week-to-week volatility.
Claims at the beginning of this year had been affected by a holiday backlog. The easing of the backlog had elevated the numbers for the previous three weeks.
That temporary boost appears to have worn off.
The weekly numbers are also muddied by the ripple effects of last week’s record-setting Mid-Atlantic snowstorms.
Analysts say the closing of businesses and government offices may have prevented some newly unemployed workers from filing their initial claims.
These data were collected as the government gathered information for the February report on the unemployment rate and employer payrolls. The severe weather may distort those figures, too, economists said. That could make it hard to get an accurate picture of the job market for several weeks.
Some experts say the snowstorms may have cost the economy as many as 100,000 jobs in February. Government hiring for the census also could be delayed.