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New jobless claims fall, but computer glitches muddy data

With hiring steady, but not stellar, jobless claims dropped. But a computer glitch continued to muddy the data.
With hiring steady, but not stellar, jobless claims dropped last week. But a computer glitch continued to muddy the data.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped from a six-month high last week, but remained elevated as California continued to deal with a backlog related to computer problems.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 358,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 335,000 last week.

A Labor Department analyst said claims in California, which has experienced technical problems during a conversion to a new computer system, remained at similar levels as in the prior week.

There had not been a perceptible increase in filings last week from non-federal workers furloughed because of the just-ended government shutdown, the analyst said.

The 2-1/2 week partial shutdown of the federal government ended on Wednesday night after Congress passed an 11th hour deal to temporarily fund the government through mid-January and to raise the country's borrowing authority until February 7.

During the week ended October 5, the first week of the shutdown, there were 70,068 claims from furloughed federal workers. Claims for federal workers are reported separately and with a one-week lag.

"Jobless claims are still dealing with a lot of computer glitches and other temporary factors. It's hard to extract anything meaningful from them," said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist with Sterne Agee & Leach in Chicago.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the claims data as investors digested the last minute budget deal.

Though claims rose last week, the underlying trend remains consistent with a gradually healing labor market.

The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 11,750 to 336,500.

Last week's claims data covered the survey period for October's non-farm payrolls count. But without payrolls data for September, which was delayed because of the shutdown, it is difficult to clearly check the pulse of the labor market.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 43,000 to 2.86 million in the week ended October 5.