Initial Claims Increase Despite Broader Recovery

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The number of people initiating claims for unemployment benefits increased slightly last week, remaining at a stubbornly high level despite improvement elsewhere in the economy.

In the week ending April 3, there were 744,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance, an increase of 16,000 from the previous week’s revised total, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Labor. The increase surprised economists, who had expected claims to drop. A median estimate cited by Moody’s Analytics forecasted 656,140 initial claims for the week.

Initial claims have been stuck around 700,000 for weeks now, about three times pre-pandemic levels and similar to numbers seen in late February. Claims should start to decline in the coming weeks as the economy gains momentum, Oxford Economics lead economist Nancy Vanden Houten wrote in a commentary, pointing to the March jobs report as a signal that a hiring boom could be just around the corner. The U.S. economy added the most jobs in seven months in March, the government report showed.