Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign the labor market continues to gain traction.
Jobless claims fell 26,000 to 319,000 in the week ended May 3 from a revised 345,000 in the prior period, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 52 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decrease to 325,000.
Fewer layoffs set the stage for bigger gains in employment and wages. While payrolls rebounded in April after a weather-induced soft patch earlier in the year, many companies are proceeding with caution while they wait for a sustained pickup in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.
“The labor market continues to see gradual improvement,” Omair Sharif, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said before the report. “It’s not gangbusters by any means. It’s steady improvement that we’ve seen each year.”
Stock-index futures held earlier losses after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June fell 0.1 percent to 1,872.4 at 8:31 a.m. in New York as investors weighed corporate earnings.
There were no states estimated last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released to the press.
Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 310,000 to 343,000. The prior week’s claims were originally reported at 344,000.
The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, climbed to 324,750 from 320,250 the week before.