Jobless claims unemployment officeThe U.S. labor market turned in a mixed performance this week as initial jobless claims unexpectedly rose 12,000 to 465,000 -- that stat's first rise in three weeks -- the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday. However, continuing claims fell another 48,000 to 4.49 million, and the less-volatile four-week moving average decreased 3,250 to 463,250.

A Bloomberg survey had expected initial jobless claims to remaining basically flat from the previous week. Stock investors, naturally, focused on the rise in initial claims, dropping the Dow Jones Industrials by 80 points at the opening.

A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 538,000, the four-week moving average was 552,250 and continuing claims totaled 6.07 million.

Lower Highs Among the States

One telling stat regarding the recent downtrend in layoffs concerns the size of initial jobless claims by state. As layoffs subside, the totals among states with the highest rates are declining, and even though claims rose unexpectedly nationwide in the latest report, the drop-off in state-level highs continued. The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending Sept. 11, the latest week for which data are available, were in Florida, with 2,755; Wisconsin, 803; Virginia, 542; Iowa, 357; and Kansas, 231.

These numbers also indicate that the vast majority of U.S. states/territories are experiencing a drop in layoffs.

States also reported 4.22 million people claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits for the week ending Sept. 4, the latest week for which data are available, an increase of 113,785 from the prior week. A year ago, 3.16 million people claimed EUC benefits.

The highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Sept. 4 were in Puerto Rico, 6.2%; New Jersey, 4.4%; Oregon, 4.3%; Nevada, 4.2%; Pennsylvania, 4.2%; and Alaska, 4.0.

Despite this week's surprising jump, jobless claims are falling gradually, and state-level data further confirm that layoffs are ebbing. If claims fall below 400,000 during the next two quarters, that would give economists and investors confidence that commercial activity is increasing at a pace that prompts most companies to curtail layoffs and resume hiring. The latter, of course, is mandatory to maintain the U.S. economic expansion.

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