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Initial jobless benefit filings in big jump

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits climbed in the latest week, with the figure coming in just below the key 400,000 level.

There were 397,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended March 5, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up 26,000 from a revised 371,000 the week before.

Economists were expecting initial claims to have risen to 382,000, according to consensus estimates from Briefing.com.

Last week's increase was due largely to seasonal factors, according to a Labor Department official, including the Presidents' Day holiday and spring breaks in some Northeastern states the week before.

The 4-week moving average of initial claims -- which smoothes out volatility in the measure -- was 392,250 last week, up 3,000 from the previous week.

Despite last week's increase, initial claims data has been trending lower for several months. The measure fell to a3-year low in the last week of February, and economists said a slight rebound in jobless claims is not surprising.

"The trend, we are sure, is still downwards, as small firms ease the pace of their layoffs now that credit conditions are less terrible," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Continuing claims -- which include people filing for the second week of benefits or more -- fell 20,000 to 3,771,000 in the week ended Feb. 26, the most recent week available.

The 4-week moving average of continuing claims was 3,833,250, down 34,750 from the week before.

The U.S. economy gained 192,000 jobs in February, the government's monthly payrolls report showed last week. The unemployment rate also dipped below 9% last time, after holding above that level since April 2009.

Shepherdson said the downward trend in jobless claims data will be reflected in future payroll reports, which he expects to show gains of 200,000 jobs by the summer.

"In the meantime expect claims to drop sharply next week," he said.  To top of page

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