Economic Report: Jobless claims rise to three-week high of 198,000, but layoffs still extremely low


The numbers: The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose to a three-week high of 198,000, but they are still extremely low and show little sign of rapidly accelerating layoffs.

New U.S. applications for benefits increased by 7,000 from 191,000 in the prior week, the government said Thursday. .

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 remain near historically low levels.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast new claims to total 198,000 in the seven days ended March 25. The numbers are seasonally adjusted.

Key details: Thirty of the 53 U.S. states and territories that report jobless claims showed a decrease last week. Twenty-three posted an increase.

One potential red flag: The number of raw or actual claims — before seasonal adjustments — was notably higher last week compared to the same week a year earlier. That’s been the case for the last several weeks.

The number of people collecting unemployment benefits across the country, meanwhile, edged up by 4,000 to 1.69 million in the week ended March 18. That number is reported with a one-week lag.

These continuing claims are still very low, but a gradual increase since last year suggests it’s taking longer for people who lose their jobs to find new ones.

Big picture: The low level of jobless claims — aka layoffs — indicates the economy is still in expansion mode. Many companies are doing brisk business, especially in the large service side of the economy, and they are still hiring

Wall Street is watching jobless benefits closely, however. They are one of the first indicators to emit danger signals when the U.S. is headed toward recession.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +1.00% and S&P 500 SPX, +1.42% were set to open higher in Thursday trades.

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