By Lorraine Woellert
WASHINGTON - More Americans than forecast filed claims for unemployment insurance payments last week as the closing of some state agencies during the holidays prompted the government to estimate figures.
Applications for jobless benefits increased 10,000 to 372,000 in the week ended Dec. 29, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. A report from the ADP Research Institute showed companies added more workers than projected in December.
Claims data typically ebb and flow during this time of year as holiday closures make it more difficult to arrive at timely counts, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released. Underneath the changes, the figures indicate firings were little changed heading into 2013 during the stalemate over the government budget.
“The underlying claims trend is still really low,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Florida. “There’s a lot of volatility this time of year. Job destruction is really not a problem right now, it’s really hiring that’s the issue.”
The data today from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute indicated the job market finished 2012 with momentum. The 215,000 increase in employment was the largest since February and followed a revised 148,000 gain the prior month that was larger than initially reported.
Stock-index futures pared losses following the better-than- projected reading from ADP. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in March was at 1,455.9 at 8:48 a.m. in New York, down less than 0.1 percent from yesterday’s close. It had dropped as much as 0.3 percent earlier in the day.
Claims estimates ranged from 340,000 to 385,000 in the Bloomberg survey of 35 economists. The prior week’s applications were revised up to 362,000 from an initially reported 350,000, reflecting a more accurate count after 19 states were estimated that week.
The Labor Department official today said the number of applications reflects the effects of the holidays. Eight states and territories provided their own estimates last week and the Labor Department projected the reading for one additional state.
The four-week moving average of claims, a less-volatile measure, rose to 360,000 from 359,750.
The report comes one day before the Labor Department’s monthly employment figures. Employers probably added jobs in December at about the same pace as the prior month, showing the labor market held up as lawmakers struggled to resolve the fiscal impasse, economists said before the report.
Payrolls rose by 150,000 workers after a 146,000 gain in November, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg ahead of the figures due tomorrow. The unemployment rate may have held at 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2008.
The number of people continuing to collect jobless benefits climbed by 44,000 to 3.25 million in the week ended Dec. 22, today’s report showed. Continuing claims don’t include workers receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
Job-hunters who have used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments decreased by about 72,800 to 2.07 million in the week ended Dec. 15. Congress this week authorized another year of federal benefits for the long-term unemployed, which were set to expire this month.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to fall as job growth -- measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls report -- accelerates.