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Initial jobless claims unexpectedly jumped to 354,000 last week

Unemployment BenefitsUnemployment RateEconomic IndicatorSmithfield FoodsFederal Reserve

WASHINGTON -- First-time jobless claims unexpectedly rose to 354,000 last week, but the four-week average remained in the range of moderate labor market growth.

The number of people filing for initial unemployment benefits in the week ending Saturday was up 10,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 344,000, the Labor Department said.

Analysts had expecting about 340,000 first-time claims, the same figure as initially reported last week.

Memorial Day might have had an impact on the increase.

With state governments closed for the holiday, they had less time to report their claims figures to the Labor Department. Because of the short week, claims data were estimated for five states -- Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia and Wyoming -- the Labor Department said.

The four-week average, which smooths out weekly variations, rose to 347,250 last week. That was up 6,750 from the previous week, but still below the 350,000 level that economists say is consistent with a moderately growing jobs market.

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Analysts and investors are watching economic data closely to try to determine when the Federal Reserve will start scaling back its unprecedented efforts to stimulate the economy.

Thursday's jobless claims figures could be an initial sign of another summer slowdown, but it's too soon to tell, said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.

"Unemployment claims are not unfriendly for the economic outlook," he said of the latest numbers. "But they are not overly friendly either."

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