US weekly jobless claims total 236,000 vs 240,000 expected

 An Aflac representative, right, shakes hands with a job seeker during an Orange County Choice Career Fair in Santa Ana, California

Troy Harvey | Bloomberg | Getty Images

An Aflac representative, right, shakes hands with a job seeker during an Orange County Choice Career Fair in Santa Ana, California.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly last week, suggesting a rapid tightening of the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 236,000 for the week ended Dec. 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised. It was the third straight weekly decline in claims.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 240,000 in the last week. Last week marked the 144th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. A Labor Department official said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the islands. He said claims processing in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it went out week-to-week volatility, edged down 750 241,500 last week. The claims data has no impact on November's employment report, due to be published on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period

According to Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 200,000 in November after surging 261,000 in October . Job growth in October was boosted by the return to work of thousands of employees, mostly in low-wage industries like hospitality and retail, who had been temporarily dislocated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged in November. It has been declined by seven-tenths of a percentage point this year.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 52,000 to 1.91 million in the week ended Nov. 25. The four -week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 1,000 to 1.91 million.

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