Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 358,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to rise to 335,000 last week.
A Labor Department analyst said claims in California, which has experienced technical problems during a conversion to a new computer system, remained at similar levels as in the prior week.
There had not been a perceptible increase in filings last week from non-federal workers furloughed because of the just-ended government shutdown, the analyst said.
The 2½ week partial shutdown of the federal government ended on Wednesday night after the U.S. Congress passed an 11th hour deal to temporarily fund the government through mid-January and to raise the country's borrowing authority until Feb. 7.
Still the underlying trend of claims remains consistent with a steady labor market. The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 11,750 to 336,500.
Last week's claims data covered the survey period for October's nonfarm payrolls count. But without payrolls data for September, which was delayed because of the shutdown, it is difficult to clearly check the pulse of the labor market.
Apart from the spike during the week ending Aug. 5, new claims for jobless aid have generally pointed to fewer layoffs.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 43,000 to 2.86 million in the week ended Oct. 5.
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