Jobless claims fall, still point to softer demand for workers


Thursday, March 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week but still hovered at a level suggesting that employers' demand for workers has eased.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial applications for jobless benefits declined by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000 for the week ending March 3.

The week before, claims shot up by 41,000, according to revised figures. That was a bigger increase than the government previously estimated.

The decline last week left claims at their lowest level since Feb. 17.

However, the more stable four-week moving average of jobless claims, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, rose last week to 355,250. That was the highest level since the beginning of the year.

Thursday's jobless data ``indicate slow, but still positive, job growth,'' said Merrill Lynch economist Karen Dexter. ``The job market has deteriorated over the last year but the weekly data still does not portray an economy in recession.''

As the economy has slowed, the nation's unemployment rate has climbed, although it still remains close to historically low levels. Many analysts believe the unemployment rate will remain at 4.2 percent when the government releases February's employment report Friday. In January, the rate rose to 4.2 percent from 4 percent.

Analysts, however, expect to see the jobless rate move higher in the coming months, given the economic slowdown.

In Friday's employment report, economists also expect to see job growth cool, predicting that companies will have hired only around 75,000 people during February.

Demand for some workers softened in February, according to a report issued by the Federal Reserve Wednesday. Employers' appetite for manufacturing, construction and information technology workers waned, but demand for clerical and health-care workers remained strong.

Seeking to prevent the faltering economy from slipping into a recession, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates twice in January, totaling a full percentage point. Many economists believe the Fed will cut rates for a third time when it meets next on March 20.

For the work week ending Feb. 24, 28 states and territories reported a decrease in new jobless claims, while 24 reported increases. The information lags a week behind national figures and is not seasonally adjusted.

Oklahoma had the biggest decline, 2,715. Officials gave no reason for the drop. Other states with declines were New York, by 2,276 because of a shorter workweek, and Ohio, down by 1,182, but no reason was given.

The state with the biggest increase in new claims was Massachusetts with a 4,860 gain. Officials blamed the rise on layoffs in the service industry.

Other states with increases: North Carolina, up by 3,088 because of layoffs in the construction, trade and furniture industries; Georgia, up by 2,540, due to layoffs in the carpet and transportation equipment industries; and Alabama, up by 1,862, because of layoffs in the construction and service businesses.