WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, pointing to strong labor market conditions despite signs that job growth was slowing.

Advertisements for 2020 Census Jobs are posted at a restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 223,000 for the week ended March 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised up to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

The Labor Department said no states were estimated. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would be unchanged at 225,000 in the latest week.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,000 to 226,250 last week, the lowest level in a month.

The claims data has no bearing on February’s employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period. There are indications that employment growth is slowing after last year’s robust gains. Part of the moderation in job growth is because of a shortage of workers.

Recent Institute for Supply Management surveys showed measures of manufacturing and services sectors employment dropping in February. A report from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday showed “modest-to-moderate gains” in employment in a majority of the U.S. central bank’s districts in February.

The Fed’s “Beige Book” report of anecdotal information on business activity collected from contacts nationwide showed notable worker shortages in information technology, manufacturing and construction industries as well as trucking businesses and at restaurants.

The Fed said contacts reported labor shortages were restricting employment growth in some areas.

The pace of job growth, however, remains more than enough to keep pushing the unemployment rate down. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 180,000 jobs in February after surging by 304,000 in January.

The unemployment rate is forecast to fall one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.9 percent in February.

Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 50,000 to 1.76 million for the week ended Feb. 23.

The so-called continuing claims had surged to a 10-month high of 1.80 million in the prior week. The four-week moving average of continuing claims rose 4,750 to 1.77 million for the week ended Feb. 23.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao


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