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Wed, Jun 7, 2000
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New Jobless Claims Rise But Still
Indicate Tight Labor Market

By Jeannine Aversa   Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits ticked up last week but still left claims at a level suggesting employers are having trouble finding workers.

The Labor Department reported today that 280,000 Americans filed new claims for jobless benefits for the week ending March 4, up by 5,000 from the previous week. That was the highest level since Feb. 12, when claims were at 285,000.

Last week's number was right on target with many analysts' expectations.

The more stable four-week moving average of claims, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, however, fell last week to 277,250 — the lowest level since Dec. 15, 1973, when claims were at 256,750.

The moving average of claims has been below 300,000 since late October.

Economists consider jobless claims below 300,000 an indication of an extremely tight labor market. That means it's difficult for employers to find qualified workers to fill job openings.

While that's good for workers, economists worry that employers will recruit workers with big increases in wages and benefits, increased costs that employers could pass along to consumers in the form of sharply higher prices, thus triggering inflation.

Last week's claims numbers, some economists said, also suggest that companies' profits are sufficient enough to avoid major layoffs.

The Federal Reserve has boosted interest rates four times since last June by a full percentage point to slow the red-hot economy and keep inflation under control.

Given strong continuing growth and the tight labor markets, most economists believe the Fed will raise rates again on March 21.

The booming U.S. economy is contributing to labor shortages and putting pressure on some companies to boost wages, the Fed said Wednesday in its most recent survey of business conditions across the country. Still, product prices, for the most part, remained stable.

Today's report said that for the week ending Feb. 26, 14 states and territories reported increases in jobless claims, while 39 reported decreases. The state data lag a week behind the national figures.

The state with the biggest increase was Massachusetts, up 4,113. Officials blamed the increase on layoffs in the service industry.

Other states with increases were: Rhode Island, up 1,391; Kentucky, up 824; Texas, up 466; and Indiana, up 268.

The state with the biggest decrease was California, down 5,588. Officials said that reflected a shorter workweek because of the Presidents' Day holiday.

Other states with decreases were: North Carolina, down 2,422; Illinois, down 2,354; Michigan, down 2,266; and Missouri, down 1,942.

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