Jobless claims bounce off lows

First time claims for unemployment benefits were higher than expected, which dimmed prospects for Friday's unemployment report. Jobless claims have become a strong indicator of the job market's strength and tomorrow's monthly report will be important for the jobs market.

By Charles Riley
March 8, 2012: 8:48 AM ET
CNN Money

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- First-time claims for unemployment benefits ticked higher last week, slightly dimming prospects for Friday's employment report.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 362,000 people filed for initial unemployment benefits in the week ended March 3, up from the previous week's revised 354,000 claims.

Economists surveyed by had predicted 355,000 new claims would be filed.

About 3.4 million people filed for their second week of unemployment benefits or more in the week ended Feb. 25, the most recent data available.

Jobless claims are considered a key indicator of the job market's strength. The number can be volatile from week to week, so economists often look to the four-week moving average as a broader gauge.

Lately, that figure has been on a gradual decline. But last week it rose slightly to 355,000, up from the previous week's average of 354,750.

The worse-than-expected report on initial claims comes one day before the government's monthly employment report is scheduled to be released.

A CNNMoney survey of 19 economists predicts that the economy added 210,000 jobs in February, down from January, when 243,000 jobs were added to payrolls.

Most of the gain will likely come from the private sector, where the prediction is for an addition of 225,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.3%

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