Jobless aid applications jump to 385,000

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose last week by 28,000, the third straight increase.

Weekly applications increased to a seasonally adjusted 385,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the highest level since late November. The gain pushed the four-week average, a less volatile measure, to 354,250.

A Labor Department spokesman says the figures may have been affected by the Easter holiday. The department says the holiday’s timing varies from year to year, which makes it difficult to adjust for school closings and other seasonal factors that can alter the data.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have declined steadily since November, pushing the average to a five-year low three weeks ago.

The recent increases could be a sign that companies are starting to cut jobs, possibly because of steep government spending cuts that began on March 1. Earlier reports this week suggested that companies may have slowed hiring this month after four months of strong job growth.

Economists said they wanted to see more data before concluding the job market’s trajectory had changed.

“We suspect the surge in the last two weeks reflects seasonal adjustment problems more than any fundamental change in the trend, but of course that remains to be seen,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, in a note to clients.

The government will issue the March employment report Friday. Economists forecast that it will show employers added 195,000 jobs last month, a healthy figure but below February’s total of 236,000.

Job growth has picked up in recent months. Employers added an average of 200,000 jobs per month from November through February. That’s nearly double the average from last spring. The gains helped lower the unemployment rate in February to a four-year low of 7.7 percent.

Stronger economic growth this year has spurred more hiring. A steady housing recovery has boosted home construction and prices. Higher home prices make Americans feel wealthier, which can spur more spending.

In February, consumer spending rose by the most in five months. And consumer confidence improved in March from the previous month, according to a survey released last week by the University of Michigan.

Two reports Wednesday, however, suggested companies may have grown more cautious last month. Services companies grew in March but at a slower pace than in February, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group. Service firms, which include retailers, hotels, restaurants and financial companies, cut back on hiring and a measure of new orders fell.

And private employers added fewer jobs in March compared with February, according to payroll processor ADP. Construction firms didn’t add any positions after three months of strong gains.

Several economists lowered their forecasts for hiring in March after Wednesday’s reports. Still, many analysts cautioned that the ADP is not always an accurate predictor of the government’s more comprehensive figures.

Nearly 5.3 million people received unemployment aid in the week ended March 16, the latest data available. That’s about 170,000 fewer than the previous week.

More in Herald Business Journal

Snohomish County’s campaign to land the 797 takes off

Executive Dave Somers announced the formation of a task force to urge Boeing to build the plane here.

A decade after the recession, pain and fear linger

No matter how good things are now, it’s impossible to forget how the collapse affected people.

Panel: Motorcycle industry in deep trouble and needs help

They have failed to increase sales by making new riders out of women, minorities and millennials.

Costco rises as results display big-box retailer’s resiliency

Their model has worked in the face of heightened competition from online, brick-and-mortar peers.

For modern women, 98-year-old rejection letters still sting

In a stark new video, female Boeing engineers break the silence about past inopportunity.

Tax reform needs the public’s input on spending priorities

The GOP tax plan is a good idea, but the next step should give us a voice on how taxes are spent.

Commentary: GM, Boeing fight a war of words over Mars

Boeing is strongly signaling how crucial deep-space exploration is to its future.

Under cloud of ethics probes, Airbus CEO Enders to step down

He leaves in 2019 after 14 years. Meanwhile, aircraft division CEO Fabrice Bregier leaves in February.

$4.99 sandwich promotion irks some Subway business owners

Management insists that “most franchisees support the promotion.”

Most Read