By Shobhana Chandra
WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits was little changed last week, signaling the labor market is stabilizing.
Applications for jobless insurance payments increased by 4,000 to 352,000 in the week ended April 13, in line with the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. There was nothing unusual in last week’s data and two states, California and Kentucky, were estimated, a Labor Department official said.
The report indicates employers have enough demand to hold on to workers, which means they may be prepared to boost hiring should sales pick up. Gains in consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, will be needed to prevent growth from slowing as automatic cuts in federal spending take effect.
“Businesses at least need the workers they have and probably could use some more,” said Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, who projected claims would rise to 350,000. “Claims will probably stay in this range for some time.”
Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June rose 0.3 percent to 1,551.3 at 8:43 a.m. in New York, indicating the index will rebound from a three-week low.
The median forecast of 46 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a rise to 350,000. Estimates ranged from 330,000 to 380,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up to 348,000, from an initially reported 346,000.
The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, rose to 361,250 last week from 358,500. The figures jumped in late March and then retreated as the government had difficulty adjusting claims for the Easter and school spring break holidays that occurred a little earlier than usual this year.
Last week corresponded to the period the Labor Department surveys businesses to calculate the payroll data for April. The four-week average was higher than the 340,750 for the comparable period in March, reflecting the holiday-induced swings.
Payrolls grew in March by 88,000, the smallest gain in nine months, after a revised 268,000 February increase, the Labor Department reported on April 5. The unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent, the lowest in four years, from 7.7 percent.