Weekly unemployment claims in the United States

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The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased less than expected last week, indicating continued strength in the labor market that could keep the country's longest economic expansion on track.Initial claims for state unemployment benefits have increased from 2,000 to 205,000 seasonally adjusted for the week ending February 8, the Labor Department announced on Thursday. Claims fell the previous week to 203,000, the lowest since November.

Economists polled by Reuters predicted claims would rise to 210,000 in the past week. The Labor Department said that only claims for Alabama were estimated last week.

The four-week moving average of initial demand, seen as a better measure of labor market trends by correcting week-to-week volatility, was unchanged at 212,000 last week.

The government announced last week that the economy had created 225,000 jobs in January after creating 147,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate rose by a tenth of a percentage point to 3.6% as more people entered the labor force, a sign of confidence in their employment prospects.

Despite strong job growth and weak layoffs, there are signs that labor market momentum may slow this year. A government report on Tuesday showed that job openings fell for the second consecutive month in December, hitting a two-year low.

Strong labor markets help support consumer spending and support the economy, which is in its 11th year of growth.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week that "the economy is in a very good shape and working well," but added that there are risks associated with the coronavirus. The virus, which has killed hundreds of people in China and spread to other countries, has led economists to downgrade their growth estimates for the Chinese economy.

The claims report on Thursday also found that the number of people receiving benefits after the first week of help fell from 61,000 to 1.70 million for the week ended February 1. The four-week moving average of so-called continuous claims fell from 17,500 to 1.73 million.

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