That was underscored by other data on Thursday showing manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region cooled in December, with factories reporting a sharp slowdown in new orders and job growth. But the housing market remains resilient, with homebuilding and permits powering ahead in November, thanks to record low mortgage rates and pent-up demand.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday acknowledged the moderation in economic activity following a record growth spurt in the third quarter. Powell cautioned that “the path ahead remains highly uncertain.” The US central bank kept its main interest rate near zero and pledged to continue injecting more money into the economy through asset purchases.
“An unexpected rise in initial jobless claims is another sign that the labor market’s recovery is backsliding,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 885,000 for the week ended Dec. 12. The second straight weekly increase lifted claims to their highest level since September. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 800,000 applications in the latest week.
Jobless claims are way above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession, though they have dropped from a record 6.867 million in March. The weekly unemployment claims report, the most timely data on the economy’s health, followed in the wake of data on Wednesday showing retail sales declined for a second straight month in November.
Part of the rise in claims could reflect difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations during this time of the year. Unadjusted claims fell 21,335 to 935,138 last week.
Including a government-funded program for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the state unemployment programs, 1.4 million people filed claims last week.