WASHINGTON -- First-time jobless claims unexpectedly climbed to a four-month high last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, providing more evidence that the economic recovery might be heading into another spring slowdown.
The number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits rose to 385,000 for the week ending Saturday, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week’s revised figure, the Labor Department said.
Economists polled by Bloomberg had estimated that claims dropped slightly last week to 353,000.
Some of the increase could stem from difficulties the Labor Department has with seasonal adjustments around the Easter holiday and school spring breaks.
“The Good Friday holiday bounces around every year and can be hard to adjust for,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.
Still, claims rose for the third straight week after the closely watched labor-market indicator had dropped to a nearly four-year low of 334,000 in early March. Economists say claims below 350,000 a week indicate moderate jobs growth.
The four-week average, which smooths out some short-term spikes, had fallen to a five-year low of about 340,000 in the week ending March 16. That figure rose last week to 354,250, up 11,250 from the previous week.
Although last week’s sharp rise could be just “a false alarm,” the recent trend of rising jobless claims is not a good sign, Rupkey said.
“There is evidence that the economy is going to slow in the second quarter again this year as the European economy is weak and the mandatory spending cuts from Washington start to have a greater impact,” he said.
News of the latest increase in jobless claims came on the heels of some disappointing private economic data this week that does not bode well for Friday’s government report on March unemployment.
Payroll firm Automatic Data Processing Inc. said Wednesday that the private sector added 158,000 jobs last month, the fewest since October. And the Institute for Supply Management reported its widely followed surveys of corporate purchasing managers showed slower growth in March in the manufacturing and service sectors.
“In each of the past few years, the recovery stalled in the spring. This year we expect a repeat performance,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist for Mizuho Securities.
Analysts expect the Labor Department to report Friday that labor growth slowed last month, with about 195,000 new jobs added. That would be down from the 236,000 jobs added to the economy in February.
The unemployment rate is projected to stay at 7.7%.