Weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped sharply to a seasonally-adjusted 391,000, according to figures released by the Labor Department Thursday. That is 37,000 fewer claims than were filed the previous week and is the lowest number since April 2.
Though that could be an encouraging sign for the nation’s ailing economy and its soaring unemployment rate, a Labor Department spokesman cautioned that some of the upturn may be a result of technical challenges associated with the seasonal adjustment of the data.
Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, said, “We have to take [the report] with a bit of a grain of salt,” because of the technical caveats and what he described as tight financial market conditions and weak business confidence.
Sweet said he didn’t see signs that businesses were beginning to aggressively cut their payrolls, but rather that they just weren’t adding new jobs. “They’re in a wait-and-see mode,” he said.
Still, the numbers exceeded analyst expectations. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected the figure to be from 410,000 to 430,000.
On Oct. 7, the Labor Department will issue its closely watched monthly report on U.S. unemployment, which should provide a clearer picture of whether the economy and the job market are improving. Last month’s report was dismal -- the nation added almost zero jobs in August, and jobless rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent.
On a brighter note, government data released on Wednesday shows that not seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates were lower in August than they were in the same month last year in 262 of the country’s 372 metropolitan areas.
The same report showed that the Washington region’s unemployment rate rose slightly in August to 6 percent from 5.9 percent.