Jobless claims jump to highest level since 1998


Thursday, April 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ New claims for state unemployment insurance jumped last week to their highest level since 1998, suggesting that employers' appetite for workers has waned.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial applications for jobless benefits climbed by 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000 for the workweek ending March 31.

That was the highest level since July 4, 1998, when claims stood at 384,000. Last week's increase in claims was bigger than many analysts were expecting. They forecast claims would rise by 13,000.

The more stable four-week moving average of jobless claims, which smoothes out week-to-week fluctuations, rose last week to 377,500. That was the highest level since March 17 when claims stood at 377,750.

Economic growth slowed sharply at the end of last year, forcing companies to cut production and jobs because of slumping demand. Manufacturing has been the hardest hit by the slowdown, while housing, construction and the labor market have generally held up well.

Still, many analysts believe that when the government releases on Friday the nation's unemployment rate for March, it will tick up from 4.2 percent to 4.3 percent, reflecting weaker demand for workers.

Many analysts also believe that the report will show that job growth during the month weakened with anywhere from 50,000 to 90,000 workers added to total payrolls.

Seeking to prevent the faltering economy from slipping into recession, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates three times this year, totaling 1.5 percentage points.

For the workweek ending March 24, 19 states and territories reported decreases in new jobless claims, while 34 reported increases. The information lags a week behind national figures and is not seasonally adjusted.

Michigan was the state with the largest increase in claims, up by 3,633. Officials blamed that on layoffs in the automobile industry. Other states with big rises were: Virginia, by 942; Mississippi, by 941; and Wisconsin up by 570.

The state with the biggest decline was New York, down by 4,853. Officials did not give a reason for the gain. Other states with decreases: Pennsylvania, down by 2,928; California, by 2,418; and Oklahoma, down by 2,416.