Weekly Jobless Claims Show Only Slight Rise, Suggest Labor Market Strength

FILE - In this June 1, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears his "Make America Great Again" hat at a rally in Sacramento, Calif. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats proudly tout they are “Made in USA.” Not necessarily always the case, an Associated Press review found. …
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If the economy is weakening, it is not yet showing up in the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 219,000 for the week ended September 18, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week was revised upward by 2,000 claims to 215,000.

Economists had forecast 216,000 jobless claims for the week.

Claims can be volatile week to week. Economists prefer to look at the four-week moving average as a more reliable gauge for the health of the labor market. This ticked up by just 500 claims to 212,500.

Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs. They have been closely watched as trade tensions with China have escalated for signs that tariffs could be hurting U.S. workers. The low level of claims suggests that businesses are not laying off workers because of trade tensions.

This week’s claims also suggest that the ongoing strike by General Motors employees has not triggered layoffs. Striking workers are not eligible for unemployment but there was some fear that the strike could force some parts suppliers to lay-off workers.

Continuing claims, which are reported with a week delay, fell 5,000 to 1.65 million for the week ended September 21. These represent people claiming unemployment benefits after their initial week of claims.

Many analysts blame the recent volatility of the stock market on fears that the U.S. economy could be slowing more than previously thought, perhaps even flirting with recession. Survey data released this week by the Institute for Supply Management indicated that the manufacturing sector unexpectedly contracted for the second consecutive month in September. A separate report on non-manufacturing from the ISM, set to be released later Thursday, will indicate whether this sluggishness has spread to the services side of the economy.

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