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Could the Job Market
Finally Be Weakening?

Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 33,000 last week, the largest increase in a year, the government reported Thursday.

The Labor Department said the number of new applications for jobless benefits climbed to 309,000 for the week ending Saturday, the first time this figure has been above the 300,000-level in 13 weeks.

Jobless claims had fallen by 7,000 in the previous week.

But Labor Department analysts stressed that the claims level is often volatile during holiday periods and they cautioned against reading too much into one week's movement in jobless claims.

The four-week moving average, which smoothes out weekly volatility, was up by 3,500 to 283,750, still an extremely low level indicating that labor markets remain tight.

The nation's unemployment rate was at a 30-year low of 4.1 percent in November and some analysts believe it may have dipped even lower to 4 percent in December. That figure will be released by the government Friday.

The dwindling pool of available workers has been cited by the Federal Reserve as a major reason for raising interest rates three times in the last six months.

Economists are looking for even more interest rate increases in the new year as the central bank works to slow economic growth as a way of taking pressure off labor markets and keep rising wage demands from sparking inflationary pressures.

For the week ending Dec. 25, 33 states and territories reported increases in initial claims while 18 reported declines and two said there was no change.

The state data are not adjusted for seasonal variations and also lag a week behind the national data.

For the week ending Dec. 25, the biggest rise in jobless claims was in Wisconsin, an increase of 9,754 blamed on layoffs in construction, manufacturing and service industries. Other states with large increases in layoffs were Iowa, up 4,030; and Kentucky, up 3, 914.

States with big declines in jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 25 were North Carolina, down 2,429, because of fewer layoffs in the textile industry, and Virginia, down 2,350.

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