The number of newly laid off US workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but the larger-than-expected drop was seen as only a temporary improvement.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of jobless claims dropped by 9,000 last week to a total of 349,000.
While that was bigger than the decline that had been expected, analysts noted that claims offices in California, the largest state, were closed for one day last week for a state holiday, giving laid off workers one less day to file claims.
The four-week average for claims, which gives a better picture of labor market trends, rose to 360,500, which was the highest level since claims spiked in October 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Analysts said the rise in the four-week average was depicting a labor market that is coming under increasing strains because of the slowing economy.
The Federal Reserve released a revised economic forecast on Wednesday that slashed growth prospects for this year but still maintained that the country could avoid a recession.
However, many private economists believe the US has already entered a downturn that began this quarter and will last through the spring.
President George W Bush last week signed a $168 billion (Dh616.56 billion) economic stimulus bill which is designed to provide rebate checks of $600 (Dh2,202) for individual and $1,200 (Dh4,404) for couples with the checks scheduled to begin arriving in mailboxes this spring as a way to give the economy a boost.
But even with the rebate checks, which Bush called a “booster shot” for the economy, analysts are forecasting a period of slower growth, reflecting the blows that have been dealt by a prolonged downturn in housing and a severe credit squeeze, which has made it harder for consumers and businesses to get loans.
The economy shed 17,000 jobs in January, the first monthly job loss in more than four years. Analysts believe that the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 4.9 per cent, will rise to 6 per cent before the current slowdown has run its course.
The performance of jobless claims for the week ending February 9 was revised to show 10,000 more benefit applications during that week than previously reported, reflecting a sharp revision from data supplied by California.
For that week, 37 states and territories had increases in claims while 16 had declines.
California had the largest increase, a jump of 7,857 that was attributed to higher layoffs in trade, service and manufacturing industries. The biggest decline in claims occurred in Ohio, which saw a drop of 2,752. (AP)
US jobless claims fall but improvement seen as only temporary