Annalyn Censky, CNNMoney
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) – First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but whether this signals strength in the broader job market remains to be seen.
About 353,000 people filed jobless claims in the week ended July 21, down 35,000 from the previous week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday.
That’s far better than economists’ expectations for 381,000 claims, but at the same time, they took the positive news with a grain of salt.
Jobless claims are seen as a key gauge of the strength of the job market, but seasonal distortions have made it difficult to get a clear reading lately.
Economists hope jobless claims are returning to a more normal trend, after some choppiness in the numbers earlier this month.
“Claims should get ‘clean’ again in coming weeks. For now, the information value of the data is not clear,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, in a note.
Often, economists will look to a four-week moving average as a better indicator than the weekly figures. That measure declined last week, which was slightly encouraging.
“Altogether we see an employment picture that has changed little, but the gradual decline in the four-week moving average for initial claims is a positive development for future payroll reports should the trend continue in the coming weeks,” said Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist with Barclays, in a note.
The Labor Department is scheduled to issue its July jobs report next Friday, and most economists are predicting hiring remained tepid. Employers added only 80,000 jobs in June. The unemployment rate is expected to be little changed from its current 8.2%.
Meanwhile, 3.29 million people filed for their second week of unemployment benefits or more in the week ended July 14, the most recent data available. That number was down 30,000 from the prior week.