New applications for U.S. jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, but the labor market appears to be cooling, with the number of Americans on unemployment rolls surging to more than a 1-1/2-year high at the end of 2019.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 214,000 for the week ended Jan. 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The fourth straight weekly decline saw claims almost unwinding the jump seen in early December, which was blamed on a later-than-normal Thanksgiving Day.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would decrease to 220,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for Puerto Rico were estimated last week.
The claims data was volatile in late 2019, with applications dropping to 203,000 at the end of November and shooting up to 252,000 in early December.