NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to 296,000 last week from a revised 308,000 the prior week, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.|
The drop in claims for the week ended July 1, after a rise the prior week, surprised some U.S. economists, who had forecast claims of 305,000 for the latest period, according to Briefing.com, which surveys economists for a consensus of their predictions.
But Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd., said he was not surprised. "We have been skeptical that the rise in claims in recent weeks marked a real shift in labor market conditions, not least because there is so little other evidence pointing to weaker demand for labor," he said.
"At 296,000, claims have slipped back to a five-week low," Shepherdson said. "This is simply too low a level to be consistent with a major change in the labor market."
The four-week moving average of claims, which generally provides a more accurate picture of jobless trends, fell to 301,500 for the July 1 week from a revised 305,750 the prior week.
Continued claims were 2,084,000 for the June 24 week, the latest data available, up from a revised 2,069,000 the prior week.
New Jersey reported a 4,506 rise in claims, citing layoffs in the transportation, trade and service industries, and Michigan posted a 3,498 increase because of layoffs in the auto industry.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, reported a drop of 2,357 claims and North Carolina reported a drop of 1,102.
In a separate report, pointing to more signs of a tight labor market, the number of job cuts in June was a mere 17,241, and marked the tenth consecutive month that job cut totals decreased. For the first six months of 2000, there were 223,421 announced job cuts, 42 percent fewer than the 383,548 reported in the same period last year, according to outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc.
"This should be convincing evidence that the 'new economy' has brought us to a level of productivity that no one predicted," Challenger CEO John A. Challenger said. "How else do you explain an expanding economy without adding labor - because there is virtually no one to hire in the first place."
-- from staff and wire reports