The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a strengthening labor market that could further ease concerns about the economy’s health.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended Jan. 5, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised up to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims declining to 225,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for Puerto Rico were estimated last week.
Claims were boosted in the week ending Dec. 29 as workers furloughed because of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government applied for benefits. The federal government partially closed on Dec. 22 as President Donald Trump demanded that the U.S. Congress give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
The shutdown, which has affected a quarter of the government, including the Commerce Department, has left 800,000 employees furloughed or working without pay. Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without pay.
Claims by federal workers are reported separately and with a one-week lag. The number of federal employees filing for jobless benefits increased by 3,831 to 4,760 in the week ending Dec. 29. Furloughed federal government workers can submit claims for unemployment benefits, but payment would depend on whether Congress decides to pay their salaries retroactively.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,500 to 221,750 last week.