The numbers: The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in the week before Christmas rose slightly to 216,000, but new filings remained low and signaled the labor market is still quite strong.
New applications edged up by 2,000 from a revised 214,000 in the prior week, the government said Thursday.
Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had forecast new claims would total 220,000 in the seven days ending Dec 17. The figures are seasonally adjusted.
The number of people applying for jobless benefits is one of the best barometers of whether the economy is getting better or worse. New unemployment filings are still historically low, but not quite as low as they were in the spring.
Key details: Twenty-seven of the 53 states and U.S. territories that report jobless claims showed an increase last week. But only Massachusetts posted an increase of more than 1,000 (1,433).
The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, meanwhile, was basically unchanged at 1.67 million. It’s the highest reading since February, but also quite low historically.
One caution on jobless claims: They are also prone to large swings during the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving through Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.
Since Thanksgiving they’ve ranged from a high of 241,000 to a low of 214,000.
Big picture: Jobless claims are one of the first indicators to deteriorate when the economy is headed toward a recession, but right now they signal a strong labor market and stable U.S. growth.
Yet the economy could slow and more businesses could start laying off workers, analysts warn, as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to squash high inflation.
Looking ahead: “We expect that claims are going to trend higher over time, but only gradually so,” said money market economist Thomas Simons of Jefferies. “It is important to keep in mind that initial and continuing claims are rising off of historically low levels.”