WASHINGTON – The number of U.S. workers making new claims for unemployment benefits rose by a smaller-than-expected 4,000 last week, government data released Thursday showed, amid further signs of a tightening labor market.
The Labor Department said 277,000 initial claims for state jobless aid were filed in the week ended Feb. 4 compared with 273,000 in the prior week.
A department analyst said there were no special factors behind the rise.
Wall Street economists had forecast initial claims would rise to 285,000 last week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, which smooths weekly volatility to yield a more reliable indication of underlying trends in the labor market, declined by 7,750 to 276,500, its lowest level since April 2000.
The report also showed the number of people still on the jobless rolls after drawing an initial week aid rose by 60,000 to 2.56 million in the week ended Jan. 28, the most recent period for which these data are available. Wall Street had expected continued claims to rise to 2.52 million.
The claims data followed upbeat news from the job market in January, when the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent, its lowest level in 4-1/2 years, as employers hired 193,000 workers in the month.
Analysts say this has mopped up much of the remaining slack in the U.S. labor market and with the economy near full employment — a theoretical level indicating the lowest level of unemployment that can be sustained without triggering wage inflation — the Federal Reserve will keep raising interest rates.