WASHINGTON - Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, indicating U.S. employers were maintaining staff counts in the days leading up to the government shutdown.
Jobless claims rose by 1,000 to 308,000 in the week ended Sept. 28, from a revised 307,000, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a rise to 315,000. Continuing claims jumped as California worked through its backlog of applications following a change in computer systems.
The figures show business leaders remained confident enough in the economy to hold the line on firings even as gridlock in Washington pointed to an imminent partial closing of federal government agencies. Fewer dismissals lay the ground for bigger gains in payrolls and wages that will help sustain consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.
“The claims data are flashing a much stronger signal” that other data such as payrolls, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in New York, the third-best claims forecaster over the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Companies are lean and mean, but the hiring that usually goes along with claims like these just isn’t happening.”
Stock-index futures held earlier losses after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December fell 0.1 percent to 1,681.5 at 8:52 a.m. in New York.
While the claims data were released today, the first partial shutdown of the government in 17 years will probably delay tomorrow’s release of the Labor Department’s September payrolls report, which was projected to show employers added 182,000 workers last month, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
A Labor Department official reiterated today as the figures were released to the press that all operations and surveys other than the claims data are suspended during the lapse of appropriations.
The agency will not release the monthly jobs report if the federal government is closed, according to an Obama administration official earlier this week.