Jobless claims rise above 400,000 again

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The number of Americans filing for their first week of unemployment benefits rose 18,000 to 409,000 last week.

While the latest data puts a damper on the prior week's eyebrow-raising headlines -- when the figure had fallen below 400,000 for the first time in two years -- the slight increase does not come as a complete surprise either.

Economists surveyed by had expected initial claims to rise to 405,000 in the latest report.

Figures for the week ended Dec. 25 included a federal holiday, and while economists try to adjust accordingly, the seasonal adjustment could have distorted the figure slightly, they say. Plus, the most recent data also includes the New Year holiday.

"It's the holiday season. Offices were closed and a lot of people didn't have a chance to get out to their local unemployment insurance office to file a claim or renew their claim," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist with BMO Capital Economics. "Plus, there are a lot of weather issues this year, so all the seasonal factors are -- quite frankly -- screwed up."

But the overall improving trend in jobless claims is still intact, Lee said. She points to the 4-week moving average -- a number that tries to smooth out week-to-week volatility -- which is at its lowest level in two years at 410,750, down 3,500 from the previous week.

"When you smooth out the wiggles, there's still reason for optimism," Lee said.

Overall, the weekly number of new claims has been stuck in a rut between 400,000 and 500,000 for more than a year, after peaking at 651,000 in March 2009.

A general downward trend in the figure since August is seen as a good sign, especially as all eyes look ahead to the government's monthly jobs report due Friday.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney are predicting the December jobs report will show a gain of 150,000 jobs, which would be a big jump from the 39,000 jobs added in November.

Continuing claims: The number of Americans filing for ongoing claims fell 47,000 to 4,103,000 in the week ended Dec. 25, the latest data available.

Ongoing claims reflect people who are filing for their second week or more, until their standard benefits run out, usually after 26 weeks. To top of page

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