WASHINGTON — Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits rose by 11,000 to 222,000 in the May 12 week, ahead of the 215,000 level expected by analysts in an MNI survey, but still low enough to drive down the four week moving average to another new decades-low level, data released by the Labor Department Thursday showed.

initial claims

The level of initial claims was down 11,000 from the 233,000 level in the April 14 employment survey week, a positive for May payrolls, though not as impressive as the comparison would have been in the previous weeks.

The four-week moving average for initial claims, which tends to be a better measure of the underlying trend of the data, fell by 2,750 to 213,250 in the May 12 week. The average stands at its lowest point since the December 13, 1969, week, when it was 210,750 and is 18,250 below the average in the April 14 employment survey week, another significant positive for May payrolls.

If the number of headline claims does not change next week and there are no revisions to data from the past four weeks, the four-week average will rise by 3,250 as the 209,000 level in the April 21 week rolls out of the calculation, but the average will still be extremely low.

Seasonal adjustment factors had expected a decrease of 2.7%, or 5,074, in unadjusted claims. Instead, unadjusted claims rose by 4,295 (2.3%) to 194,557. The current week's level was still below the 206,905 level in the comparable week a year ago.

The only states where claims were estimated were again Colorado and Maine. However, the claims taking procedures in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have still not returned to normal.

The level of continuing claims fell by 87,000 to 1.707 million in the May 5 week, the lowest level since the Dec. 1, 1973 week, when it was 1.692 million.

Before seasonal adjustment, continuing claims fell by 133,062 to 1.591 million, well below the 1.782 million level seen in the comparable week last year.

The four-week average for continuing claims, a more reliable measure when the continuing claims are rapidly moving week-to-week, fell by 39,750 to 1.774 million, the lowest point since the Dec. 22, 1973 week.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate fell to 1.2% in the May 5 week, down from 1.3% in the previous week and 1.4% in the same week a year earlier.

The unemployment rate among the insured labor force is well below that reported monthly by the Labor Department because claims are approved for the most part only for job losers, not the job leavers and labor force reentrants included in the monthly report.

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