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By Alex Kowalski
WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance payments rose for the first time in five weeks, a sign further improvement in the labor market depends on faster economic growth.
Applications for jobless benefits increased by 17,000 to 361,000 in the week ended Dec. 15, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
The figures signal the expansion probably needs to proceed more quickly to encourage companies to hold the line on headcounts and step up hiring while Congress debates the nation’s budget and tax rates. The Federal Reserve said last week it intends to keep policy accommodative to invigorate the economy and help sustain a decline in joblessness.
“The labor market is far from making sustainable and substantial gains, which is what the Fed is looking for,” Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York, said before the report. “We’re not going to be able to gain much traction without getting resolution on the fiscal front. If we do, we should start beginning to see a lot more business investment in 2013.”
Estimates for first-time claims ranged from 324,000 to 379,000 in the Bloomberg survey of 52 economists. The prior week’s applications were initially reported as 343,000.
A Labor Department official today said there was “nothing unusual” that affected today’s figures.
Another report from the Commerce Department showed the economy expanded at a revised 3.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter after a previously reported 2.7 percent. The revision reflected more consumer spending and a smaller trade deficit.
Stock-index futures maintained losses after the figures, falling 0.1 percent to 1,431.1 at 8:36 a.m. in New York.
The four-week moving average of claims, a less-volatile measure, declined to 367,750, the lowest since the end of October, from 381,500.
The number of people continuing to collect jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to 3.23 million in the week ended Dec. 8. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of workers receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
Those who’ve used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments decreased by about 94,000 to 2.14 million in the week ended Dec. 1.