More Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, returning to levels seen prior to the holiday period and indicating little change in the pace of firings.
Jobless claims increased by 20,000 to 362,000 in the week ended Feb. 16, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The number of applications in three states and the District of Columbia were estimated because of the holiday-shortened week, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data was released.
Companies are maintaining their staffing levels even amid concern that rising gasoline prices and a January tax increase will damp consumer spending. Looming cuts in government spending also threaten to slow growth, a sign that hiring may be limited in coming months.
“Businesses just seem to be sitting tight with regard to layoffs, which is reason for optimism,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. “If we get through these hurdles over the next couple months the job market should begin to improve more noticeably,” Sweet said.
Sweet was the best forecaster of jobless claims over the past two years ended last week, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The cost of living was little changed in January for a second month as a drop in energy costs offset gains in clothing, hotel rates and airline fares, another report from the Labor Department showed today. Over the past 12 months, the consumer- price index increased 1.6 percent, the smallest year-over-year gain since July.
The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.3 percent, more than forecast.
During the election cycle, for many months, my hamsters were capable of predicting the first time unemployment numbers because week after week they came it at 2,500. Now, suddenly, there are swings that are 9-10x that amount. It’s as if a man consumes around 2500 calories a day for weeks, and then suddenly starts eating 20,000 calories a day. One way or the other, we aren’t getting reality. My take is that the numbers during the election cycle were bogus.
Whatever the truth, we do know this: Just like my beloved hamsters, Barney and Frank, we are spinning our wheels. America is a giant hamster cage.