A break in a key jobless measure
Continuing claims fall for first time since the week ended Jan. 3. Weekly claims edge lower.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Ongoing claims for unemployment insurance declined for the first time since January, and the number of initial claims fell slightly, according to government data released Thursday.
"The downshift in claims continues but progress is painfully slow," wrote Ian Shepherdson, economist at High Frequency Economics, in a research note.
The government said 6,735,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended May 23, the most recent data available. That's a decrease of 15,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 6,750,000.
The continuing claims total last declined in the week ended Jan. 3 -- a week that included the New Year's holiday. Continuing claims had hit record highs for 17 straight weeks.
The 4-week moving average for continuing claims was 6,687,500, an increase of 88,750 from the week prior.
Initial claims: There were 621,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended May 30, down from an upwardly revised 625,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said. The week included the Memorial Day holiday.
Economists expected 620,000 new claims, according to a consensus survey by Briefing.com.
The 4-week moving average of initial claims was 631,250, up 4,000 from the previous week.
Claims had risen quickly since Lehman Brothers failed in September, Shepherdson noted, writing that a return to the "pre-Lehman level of 450,000 or so still seems a story for next year rather than this year."
"Feeble green shoots" in other areas of the economy "don't stop companies laying off staff, still less actually starting to hire again," he added.
State highs and lows: The largest increases for the week ended May 23, the most recent data available, were in Illinois, with 3,881; Iowa, at 2,312; South Carolina, with 1,792; Texas, at 1,548; and Wisconsin, 1,464. Those spikes were likely due to layoffs in the service and manufacturing industries, among others, the report said.
By contrast, seven states reported claims decreased by more than 1,000. North Carolina reported 3,952 fewer claims, which a state-supplied comment attributed to fewer layoffs in the construction, furniture, and transportation industries.
The national unemployment rate was 8.9% in April. A new nationwide report, for May, comes out Friday.