Labor Department: 28,000 more Americans file jobless claims

In advance of its official monthly jobs report, the U.S. Labor Department said today that the number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment benefits rose by 28,000 last week, the fourth consecutive weekly increase.

For the week ending March 20, initial jobless claims increased to a seasonally adjusted 385,000, an indication that more companies are laying off workers.

The figure, the largest weekly number since late November, was about 30,000 more than anticipated by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

The weekly data is a sign that job growth has slowed but is not contracting. While increasing, recent initial weekly claims have remained below the 400,000 mark, the point many economists use to evaluate whether the labor market is growing.

With the official unemployment rate at 7.7%, March jobs data will be reported on Friday. Following a somewhat disappointing forecast by the payroll services firm ADP, economists don’t expect the economy to exceed the 236,000 new jobs reported in February.

ADP said private-sector employers added 158,000 jobs last month, enough to keep pace with changes in population and the labor market, but not enough to make a large dent in the unemployment rate.