Jobless claims edge lower as Fed looks to cool labor market

Initial filings for unemployment benefits declined slightly last week though they were consistent with a drift higher in layoffs that began in the spring, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Jobless claims totaled 250,000 for the week ended Aug. 13, down 2,000 from the previous week and below the 260,000 Dow Jones estimate.

The four-week moving average for claims, which helps smooth out weekly volatility, also fell by 2,750 to 246,750.

Earlier this year, claims had hit their lowest level in more than 50 years, but began moving higher in April after bottoming at 166,000. The four-week moving average has risen during that time by nearly 80,000.

Continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline number, totaled 1.437 million, an increase of 7,000.

Policymakers are watching the jobs market closely at a time when inflation is running near 40-year highs. Federal Reserve officials have instituted a series of interest rate increases aimed in part at cooling a labor market in which there are nearly two jobs open for every available worker.

At their July meeting, Fed officials noted “tentative signs of a softening outlook for the labor market” that included a rise in weekly claims, according to minutes released Wednesday. Policymakers said they were determined to continue to raise interest rates until inflation under control even if meant more a slowdown in hiring.

“Unfortunately, what’s good for the American worker is bad for the Fed’s attempt to being inflation back down to 2% and this will complicate their job and cause them to raise rates higher and for longer than many people currently expect,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Investor Alliance.

In other economic news Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed reported that its monthly manufacturing survey for August rose to a reading of 6.2, representing the percentage difference between companies expecting expansion vs. contraction. That was an improvement over July’s minus-12.3.

The level was above the estimate for a minus-5 and helped quell fears that manufacturing might be headed for a major slowdown. A similar survey on Monday from the New York Fed fell a stunning 40 points as respondents indicated that business conditions were deteriorating.

The indexes for prices paid and received both declined on the month, though they remain well into territory that indicates inflation is still present. Hiring also improved as did new orders, though the latter still registered a reading of minus-5.1.