WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign employers are holding the line on firings even as cold weather slowed industries from manufacturing to housing.
Jobless claims declined by 3,000 to 336,000 in the week ended Feb. 15, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 53 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decrease to 335,000. No states were estimated and there was nothing unusual in the data, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released.
A slowdown in dismissals could lay the groundwork for a pickup in hiring, and more jobs could translate to a boost in consumer spending. An improving job market would support a turnaround in an economy held back by harsh winter weather that has slowed retail sales, employment and factory production.
“Firing is still at very low levels,” Sean Incremona, a senior economist at 4cast Inc. in New York, said before the report. “As we continue to see economic growth gain momentum later this year, job gains will also have momentum.”
Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 315,000 to 345,000. The prior week’s claims were unrevised at 339,000.
Another report Thursday showed the cost of living rose at a slower pace in January, a sign inflation was restrained in early 2014. The consumer-price index climbed 0.1 percent after a 0.2 percent gain in December, according to Labor Department data.
The claims report corresponds to the week the Labor Department surveys businesses and households to calculate February payrolls and unemployment rate.