U.S. Jobless Claims Fewer Than Expected

Those south of the border filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting a rapid tightening of the U.S. labour market.

Figures released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department show initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 236,000 for the week ended Dec. 2. Data for the prior week was unrevised. It was the third straight weekly decline in claims.

Economists had forecast claims rising to 240,000 in the latest week. Last week marked the 144th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong stateside labour market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labour market was smaller.

The labour market in the United States is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1%. A department official said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the islands. He said claims processing in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged down 750 to 241,500 last week.

Economists are predicting non-farm payrolls probably increased by 200,000 in November after surging 261,000 in October. Job growth in October was boosted by the return to work of thousands of employees, mostly in low-wage industries like hospitality and retail, who had been temporarily dislocated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged in November. It has declined by seven-10ths of a percentage point this year.