WASHINGTON — Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits saw a slight uptick in the March 16 employment survey week, rising 2,000 to 336,000 and breaking the downward trend seen since the middle of last month, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

In a survey week comparison, initial claims are down 30,000 vs the level of claims in the Feb. 16 employment survey week (366,000).

The initial claims level in the March 9 week was revised up to 334,000 from the previously reported 332,000 level. Expectations for this week's report was for an initial claims level of 340,000.

A Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state level data, with all states reporting on time.

Seasonal adjustment factors had expected unadjusted claims to decline by 20,000 (-6.3%) in the March 16 survey week. Instead, unadjusted claims fell 5.8%, or 18,383, to 299,143. That level is below the 319,498 level reported in the comparable week a year ago.

The state data released for the March 9 week indicated unadjusted initial claims increased in 20 states and declined in 33 states, with no states unchanged. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands are included in this data.

The initial claims seasonally adjusted 4-week moving average declined for the fourth straight week, down 7,500 to 339,750 in the March 16 survey week - the lowest level since the week of February 2, 2008 (339,250).

The 4-week moving average is down 22,000 compared to a month ago, and given that this figure smoothens out the week-to-week volatility usually seen in the initial claims level, this should bode well for the March unemployment report.

The level of continuing claims came in at 3.053 million after seasonal adjustment in the March 9 week, a small increase of 5,000 from the previous week.

The level of unadjusted continuing claims declined for the third week in a row, plunging 64,575 to 3,437,345 in the week, below the 3,815,580 level in the comparable week a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment was unchanged at 2.4% in the March 9 week, below the seasonally adjusted 2.7% rate in the comparable week a year earlier.

The unemployment rate among the insured labor force is well below hat 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.

The Labor Department said that the level of unadjusted Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits claims plummeted to 1,780,843 in the March 2 week, a decline of 136,315.

The Labor Department reported that a total of 5,369,007 persons claimed unemployment benefits in the March 2 week, a massive fall of 250,853 from the previous week, and well below the 7,284,741 persons in the comparable week a year ago. These data are not seasonally adjusted, and include regular state claims, federal employee claims, new veterans claims, the EUC and extended benefits programs, state additional benefits, and STC/Workshare claims.

Market News International is a real-time global news service for fixed-income and foreign exchange market professionals. See www.marketnews.com.

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