Jobless claims hit highest level since February 2015

Jobless claims hit highest level since February 2015
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Weekly claims for jobless benefits rose unexpectedly last week to their highest level since February 2015 as the labor market show signs of softening after a slow start to the year. 

Applications for unemployment insurance rose 20,000, to a seasonally adjusted 294,000, for the week ending May 7, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

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The four-week average, which better reflects the direction of the labor market, rose 10,250, to 268,250, but still reflected a healthy level of claims.

First-time claims have held below 300,000 threshold for more than a year, the longest run in 43 years, as employers hold on to their workers even amid tumultuous financial markets and 0.5 percent economic growth in the first three months of the year. 

Concerns about slow economic growth and turbulent financial markets early in the year may be seeping into the spring figures.

April jobs growth fell to 160,000, the slowest pace since last fall.

First-quarter growth has typically been slow since the recovery in 2009, with a pick up during the spring period. 

Still, economists say that the jobs figures, although disappointing, don't necessarily reflect a negative trend.

The labor market is still expanding at a pace fast enough to gradually lower the unemployment rate.  

"It’s important not to overreact to a single week of initial claims, whether they are good or bad," Moody's Analytics said in an analysis.

While there were no special factors in the data, the Verizon strike and possibly auto plant shutdowns because of Japan’s earthquakes could have contributed to the increase in new filings, Moody's said.