A decade after recession, a jump in U.S. states with wage gains for American workers

Newly hired employees take a break from training to pose for a group photo at the chain’s soon-to-open 54th outlet in Oakland, California ,U.S., January 24, 2018.

By Ann Saphir, Jonathan Spicer and Howard Schneider

OAKLAND, Calif./CANTON, N.Y./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The kind of pay raises for which American workers have waited years are now here for a broadening swath of the country, according to a Reuters analysis of state-by-state data that suggests falling unemployment has finally begun boosting wages.

Average pay rose by more than 3 percent in at least half of U.S. states last year, up sharply from previous years. The data also shows a jump in 2017 in the number of states where the jobless rate zeroed in on record lows, 10 years after the financial crisis knocked the economy into a historic recession.

The state-level data could signal an inflection point muffled by national statistics.

Over the past four years, the U.S. economy added 10 million jobs and the overall unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since 2000. Yet wages have disappointed.

The disconnect has puzzled economists at the Federal Reserve, frustrated politicians concerned about rising inequality, and held regular Americans back, even as businesses have benefited and stock markets have surged, particularly in the first year of U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump says his tax cuts and regulation rollbacks are lifting business sentiment, and in an upbeat address to Congress on Tuesday, he said Americans “are finally seeing rising wages” after “years and years” of stagnation.

Indeed, average hourly earnings were up 2.9 percent in January year-on-year, the biggest rise in more than 8-1/2 years but still less than the 3.5 percent to 4 percent economists say would be a sign of a healthy economy.

The Reuters analysis and interviews with businesses across the country do show wage increases in industries ranging from manufacturing to technology and retail. Executives are mixed, however, on how much to credit Trump after several years of job growth that has chopped nearly six percentage points from the unemployment rate since its peak of 10 percent at the height of the 2007-2009 recession.

“Everyone in the building knows that they can leave and make more money,” said Michael Frazer, president of Frazer Computing, which provides software to U.S. used-car dealers from its offices in northern New York state. In response he raised wages by 6.1 percent at the end of 2017, up from 3.7 percent the previous year.

In Portland, Oregon, software provider Zapproved now hires coding school graduates and spends up to three months training them because the experienced software developers it used to hire have become too expensive. And still, CEO Monica Enand says she gives her developers twice-yearly raises “to make sure we are in the market for pay.”

JOBLESS RATES AT RECORD LOWS

The Reuters analysis of the most recent data available found that in half of the 50 states, average hourly pay rose by more than 3 percent last year. That’s up from 17 states in 2016, 12 in 2015, and 3 in 2014. Average weekly pay rose in 30 states, also up sharply from prior years, the analysis showed.

Unemployment rates are near or at record lows in 17 states, including New York, up from just five in 2016, the Reuters analysis shows.

“Wage growth tends to accelerate when the unemployment rate gets really strong,” said Bart Hobijn, an economics professor at Arizona State University.

California, Arkansas, and Oregon were among those both notching 3-percent-plus wage gains and plumbing record-low unemployment rates. This broadening of benefits to U.S. workers comes as robust global growth pushes up wages from Germany to Japan.

New York Fed President William Dudley said last month that firmer wage gains in states with lower unemployment rates gave him confidence that U.S. inflation, long stubbornly low, would soon rise.

In California, home of Noah’s New York Bagels, more than half of its 53 stores now pay their new hires more than the legal minimum wage, twice as many as in mid-2017.

“It’s very challenging to find enough people” in low-unemployment areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, said Noah’s president Tyler Ricks, who expects to hike pay further this year even as he opens five new stores.

To be sure, some states like Idaho with very low unemployment continue to have slow wage growth, while some like Delaware with very strong wage growth still have jobless rates well above their record lows.

And the share of gross domestic product that feeds back to labor as compensation has only edged slightly higher this decade, after generally declining since the 1970s, suggesting workers have a long way to make up ground.

Yet the state-level data hints at a first step.

Galley Support, a Sherwood, Arkansas-based manufacturer of latches for airplane kitchens and toilets, gave unskilled workers as much as a 20 percent pay hike last year. CEO Gina Radke said it will sap profit but with the Trump administration’s business-friendly policies set to benefit aircraft companies like Boeing, she added, “We feel confident that we will see an increase in sales to cover the increase in wages.”

Work-site managers at Gray, a company that oversees the building of factories and other projects from its headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky, also got a 20 percent raise since 2016. Yet a paycheck of up to $200,000 a year, plus bonuses, often isn’t enough to fill all the jobs on offer.

“There is just so much work around for people that it’s just hard to lure them away,” said Susan Brewer, Gray’s vice president of human resources.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir in Oakland, Calif., Jonathan Spicer in Canton, New York and Howard Schneider in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Iran stages pro-government rallies, cleric urges firm punishment for protest leaders

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran on Friday, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and accusing arch enemy the United States of instigating the largest anti-government protests in nearly a decade, state TV reported.

Tehran’s Friday prayer leader called on authorities to deal “firmly” with those responsible for igniting over a week of illegal rallies, in which 22 people were killed and more than 1,000 people were arrested, according to Iranian officials.

“But those ordinary Iranians who were deceived by these American-backed rioters should be dealt with based on Islamic clemency,” cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran university, TV reported.

Khatami also called on the government to “pay more attention to people’s economic problems.”

The anti-government rallies erupted on December 28 in Iran’s holy Shi’ite city of Mashhad after the government announced plans to increase fuel prices and dismantle monthly cash handout to lower-income Iranians.

The protests spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns, staged by thousands of young and working class Iranians angry about official corruption, unemployment and a deepening gap between rich and poor.

The authorities have produced no evidence of U.S. involvement in the protests, which lacked a unifying leader.

GUARDS QUELLED UNREST

But in Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Iran’s statements that external influences fomented the unrest were not groundless and Washington used any possible method to destabilize governments it disliked.

He added that U.S. calls for an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the turmoil in Iran interfered with the country’s sovereignty, news agency Interfax said. The Council will meet on Friday at 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) to discuss Iran, Council president Kazakhstan has said.

Residents contacted by Reuters in various cities said the protests had shown sign of abating since Thursday, after the establishment intensified a crackdown on the protesters by dispatching Revolutionary Guards forces to several provinces.

Iran’s elite Guards and its affiliated Basij militia suppressed the country’s 2009 unrest over alleged election fraud, in which dozens of pro-reform Iranians were killed.

Iranian officials said the protests were the result of foreign instigation and mocked U.S. President Donald Trump’s support of protesters against what he called a “brutal and corrupt” establishment.

On Friday rallies, protesters chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, carrying pictures of Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and waved Iranian flags.

Television footage of rallies in several cities showed people chanting “We support Imam Khamenei … We will not leave him alone in his fight against enemies”.

“Demonstrators demand the punishment of those behind foreign-linked riots which insulted religion and our authorities,” state television reported, referring to the anti-government protests in which social media footage showed protesters tearing down pictures of Khamenei.

Khatami also called on the government to “pay more attention to people’s economic problems.”

UNITED FRONT

To allay tension, the government has suspended its plans to cut cash handouts and increase fuel prices.

“There are workers who say they have not received their salaries for months … These problems should be resolved,” Khatami said, according to state TV.

Fearing that further unrest could undermine the Islamic republic altogether, Iran’s faction-ridden political elite has displayed a united front.

But Khamenei and his hardline allies have criticized Rouhani for failing to revive the economy after most sanctions on Iran were lifted in 2016 under a nuclear deal reached between Tehran and major powers aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program.

Rouhani secured the deal in 2015, raising hopes of better economic times among many Iranians, but discontent has since risen over the lack of broad improvement in living standards.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly rise; import prices up modestly

U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly rise; import prices up modestly

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week in part as a backlog of applications from Puerto Rico continued to be processed, but the underlying trend pointed to tightening labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 249,000 for the week ended Nov. 11, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the second straight weekly increase.

The claims backlog in Puerto Rico is being cleared as some of the infrastructure damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria is restored. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 235,000 in the latest week.

A labor department official said while the backlog in Puerto Rico was being processed, claims-taking procedures continued to be severely disrupted in the Virgin Islands.

Last week marked the 141st straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 6,500 to 237,750 last week.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

The low level of claims suggests strong job growth despite hurricane-related disruptions in September. Employment gains could, however, slow as companies struggle to find qualified workers, which economists expect will boost sluggish wage growth.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 44,000 to 1.86 million in the week ended Nov. 4, the lowest level since December 1973. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 9,000 to 1.89 million, the lowest reading since January 1974.

In another report on Thursday, the Labor Department said import prices gained 0.2 percent last month as an increase in the cost of imported petroleum and capital goods was offset by a decline in food prices. That followed a 0.8 percent jump in September.

In the 12 months through October, import prices increased 2.5 percent, slowing after a 2.7 percent rise in September.

Last month, prices for imported petroleum increased 1.7 percent after surging 6.3 percent in September. Import prices excluding petroleum edged up 0.1 percent after shooting up 0.4 percent the prior month. Import prices excluding petroleum rose 1.4 percent in the 12 months through October.

A weak dollar, which has this year lost 5.4 percent of its value against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partners, could keep import prices outside petroleum supported.

Imported capital goods prices rose 0.2 percent last month, while the cost of imported food fell 0.2 percent.

The report also showed export prices were unchanged in October as the biggest monthly increase in the price of agricultural exports in nearly 1-1/2 years was eclipsed by a drop in nonagricultural prices. Export prices rose 0.7 percent in September. They increased 2.7 percent year-on-year last month after rising 2.8 percent in September.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Jobless claims rise more than expected as hurricane backlog clears

Jobless claims rise more than expected as hurricane backlog clears

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, suggesting that claims processing disrupted by recent hurricanes has begun to improve.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 239,000 for the week ended Nov. 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims had fallen to 229,000 in the prior week, near a 44-1/2-year low, and remain well below the 300,000 level generally regarded as signaling a healthy labor market.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 231,000 in the latest week. They have declined from an almost three-year high of 298,000 hit at the start of September in the aftermath of hurricanes that ravaged parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The Labor Department noted that it is now processing backlogged claims in Puerto Rico though its operations in the Virgin Islands remain severely disrupted.

Last week marked the 139th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250, to 231,250 last week, the lowest level since March 31, 1973. That suggests ongoing job growth in an economy many regard as near full employment.

The so-called continuing claims rose 17,000 to 1.90 million. Economists polled by Reuters had expected continuing claims of 1.89 million.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 750, to 1.90 million, the lowest level since Jan. 12, 1974, suggesting a continued decline in labor market slack.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. jobless claims hit more than 44-year low

U.S. jobless claims hit more than 44-year low

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest level in more than 44 years last week, pointing to a rebound in job growth after a hurricane-related decline in employment in September.

The labor market outlook was also bolstered by another report on Thursday showing a measure of factory employment in the mid-Atlantic region rising to a record high in October. The signs of labor market strength could cement expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended Oct. 14, the lowest level since March 1973, the Labor Department said.

But the decrease in claims, which was the largest since April, was probably exaggerated by the Columbus Day holiday on Monday.

Claims are declining as the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wash out of the data. The hurricanes, which lashed Texas and Florida, boosted claims to 298,000 in early September.

A Labor Department official said claims for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico continued to be impacted by Irma and Hurricane Maria, which destroyed infrastructure. As a result the Labor Department continued to estimate claims for the islands.

Nonfarm payrolls dropped by 33,000 jobs in September as Hurricanes Irma and Harvey left more than 100,000 restaurant workers temporarily unemployed. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are not included in nonfarm payrolls.

Economists had forecast claims falling to 240,000 in the latest week. The dollar pared losses against a basket of currencies after the data, while prices for U.S. Treasuries were unchanged.

LABOR MARKET TIGHTENING

Last week marked the 137th consecutive week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market.

That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a more than 16-1/2-year low of 4.2 percent.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 9,500 to 248,250 last week.

The claims data covered the survey week for October nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 20,500 between the September and October survey periods, supporting views of a rebound in job growth this month.

In a separate report on Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed said its measure of factory employment in the mid-Atlantic region soared 24 points to a record high reading of 30.6 in October.

The average workweek index also increased 8 points to a reading of 19.4. It said no firms reported decreases in employment this month. The robust labor market readings helped to lift the Philadelphia Fed’s current manufacturing activity index four points to a five-month high of 27.9 in October, offsetting declines in new orders and shipments measures.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 16,000 to 1.89 million in the week ended Oct. 7, the lowest level since December 1973.

The so-called continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 27 straight weeks, pointing to diminishing labor market slack. The four-week moving average of

continuing claims dropped 22,750 to 1.91 million, the lowest level since January 1974. That was the 25th consecutive week that this measure remained below the 2 million market.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. jobless claims fall to more than one-month low

Pedestrians pass a sign advertising a sale and a job opening at a shop on Newbury Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to more than a one-month low last week as claims in Texas and Florida continued to decline after being boosted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 243,000 for the week ended Oct. 7, the lowest level since late August, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.

A Labor Department official said Harvey and Irma along with Hurricane Maria affected claims for Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In addition, claims for Virginia were estimated.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 251,000 in the latest week. Claims have been declining since surging to an almost three-year high of 298,000 at the start of September as workers displaced by the hurricanes were left temporarily unemployed.

As a result of Harvey and Irma, nonfarm payrolls dropped by 33,000 jobs last month, the first decrease in employment in seven years. A rebound in job growth is expected in October, boosted by the return of the dislocated workers as well as the start of rebuilding and clean-up efforts in storm-ravaged areas.

Underscoring the labor market’s underlying strength, claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 136 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at more than a 16-1/2-year low of 4.2 percent.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 9,500 to 257,500 last week.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 32,000 to 1.89 million in the week ended Sept. 30, the lowest level since December 1973.

The so-called unadjusted continuing claims for Texas and Florida fell, suggesting some of the workers affected by Harvey and Irma had returned to their jobs. The unemployment rate among people receiving jobless benefits fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 1.3 percent.

Overall continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 26 straight weeks, indicating that labor market slack continues to diminish. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 11,500 to 1.93 million, remaining below the 2 million level for the 24th consecutive week.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. second-quarter economic growth revised higher; jobless claims rise

FILE PHOTO: Customers shop at a Whole Foods store in New York City, U.S., August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy grew a bit faster than previously estimated in the second quarter, recording its quickest pace in more than two years, but the momentum probably slowed in the third quarter as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma temporarily curbed activity.

Gross domestic product increased at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the April-June period, the Commerce Department said in its third estimate on Thursday. The upward revision from the 3.0 percent rate of growth reported last month reflected a slightly faster pace of inventory investment.

Growth last quarter was the quickest since the first quarter of 2015 and followed a 1.2 percent pace in the January-March period. Economists had expected that the second-quarter GDP growth rate would be unrevised at 3.0 percent.

Harvey, which struck Texas, has been blamed for much of the decline in retail sales, industrial production, homebuilding and home sales in August. Further weakness is anticipated in September after Irma slammed into Florida early this month.

Rebuilding is, however, expected to boost GDP growth in the fourth quarter and in early 2018. Estimates for the growth rate in the July-September period are just above 2.2 percent.

However, they could be raised after another report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showed a decline in the goods trade deficit in August as well as large increases in both retail and wholesale inventories.

Harvey and Irma continue to impact the labor market and are expected to cut into job growth this month. In a third report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 272,000 for the week ended Sept. 23.

Still, the labor market remains strong. Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 134 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

Prices for U.S. Treasuries held losses after the data and the dollar <.DXY> fell to a session low against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures were trading lower.

ROBUST CONSUMER SPENDING

With GDP accelerating in the second quarter, the economy grew 2.1 percent in the first half of 2017. Still, economists believe growth this year will not breach President Donald Trump’s ambitious 3.0 percent target.

Trump on Wednesday proposed the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in three decades, including lowering the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent and implementing a new 25 percent tax rate for pass-through businesses such as partnerships to boost the economy.

But the plan gave few details on how the tax cuts would be paid for without increasing the budget deficit and national debt, setting up what is expected to be a bruising battle in the U.S. Congress.

Growth in consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, was unrevised at a 3.3 percent rate in the second quarter as an increase in spending on services was offset by a downward revision to durable goods outlays. Consumer spending in the second quarter was the fastest in a year.

Amid robust consumer spending, businesses accumulated a bit more inventory than previously reported to meet the strong demand. Inventory investment added just over one-tenth of a percentage point to GDP growth in the second quarter. It was previously reported to have been neutral.

Growth in business spending on equipment was unchanged at a rate of 8.8 percent, the fastest pace in nearly two years.

Investment on nonresidential structures was revised to show it increasing at a 7.0 percent pace, up from the previously reported 6.2 percent rate.

Both export and import growth were revised slightly lower. Trade contributed two-tenths of a percentage point to GDP growth last quarter. Housing was a slightly bigger drag on growth in the last quarter than previously reported, subtracting 0.3 percentage point from output.

The government also sharply revised down growth in corporate profits for the second quarter. Profits after tax with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments increased at a 0.1 percent rate instead of the previously reported 0.8 percent pace.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Hurricane Harvey boosts U.S. jobless claims to more than two-year high

FILE PHOTO: Leaflets lie on a table at a booth at a military veterans' job fair in Carson, California October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits jumped to its highest level in more than two years last week amid a surge in applications in hurricane-ravaged Texas, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a firming jobs market.

The surge in claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday offered an early glimpse of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the economy. The storm, which unleashed unprecedented flooding in Houston, disrupted oil, natural gas and petrochemical production and forced a temporary closure of refineries.

Economists say Harvey could put a dent in third-quarter gross domestic product, but expect lost output to be recouped in the October-December period.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 62,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 for the week ended Sept. 2, the highest level since April 2015, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The weekly increase was the largest since November 2012. A Labor Department official said last week’s data had been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Unadjusted claims for Texas surged 51,637 last week as some people found themselves temporarily unemployed. That accounted for 95.6 percent of the increase in unadjusted claims last week. Claims for Louisiana were also affected by Harvey, though they only increased 258.

In addition, claims for five states and a territory were estimated last week because of the Labor Day holiday on Monday.

JOBS MARKET STILL FIRMING

Economists had forecast claims rising to 241,000 in the latest week. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased by 13,500 to 250,250 last week suggesting the labor market continued to strength.

If, however, the flood disruptions in Texas persist, that could hurt job growth in September. The government reported last week that the economy created 156,000 jobs in August, with the private services sector hiring the smallest number of workers in five months.

Economists largely dismissed the slowdown in job growth, blaming it on a seasonal quirk. Over the past several years, the initial August job count has tended to exhibit a weak bias, with revisions subsequently showing strength.

The dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies. Prices for U.S. Treasuries rose.

In a second report on Thursday, the Labor Department said worker productivity increased at a 1.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, instead of the 0.9 percent pace it reported last month. That followed a 0.1 percent rate of increase in the first quarter.

The government last week revised up second-quarter gross domestic product growth to a 3.0 percent rate from a 2.6 percent pace. Despite the upward revision to productivity, the trend remains weak, suggesting it would be difficult to achieve robust economic growth.

President Donald Trump has vowed to boost annual growth to 3 percent through tax cuts, infrastructure spending and regulatory rollbacks. Compared to the second quarter of 2016, productivity increased at a 1.3 percent rate, instead of the previously reported 1.2 percent pace. That was the strongest performance in two years.

With productivity rising, unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at only a 0.2 percent pace in the second quarter. Unit labor costs were previously reported to have risen at a 0.6 percent pace. They surged at a 4.8 percent rate in the January-March period.

Compared to the second quarter of 2016, unit labor costs fell at a 0.2 percent rate as previously reported.

Hours worked rose at a rate of 2.5 percent in the April-June period as previously reported. That was the quickest pace since the fourth quarter of 2015, and followed a 1.6 percent rate of increase in the first quarter.

As a result, output per worker surged at a 4.0 percent rate, the fastest since the third quarter of 2014, after rising at a1.8 percent pace at the start of the year.

Output was previously reported to have increased at a 3.4 percent pace in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. jobless claims drop to near six-month low

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to near a six-month low last week, pointing to a further tightening in the labor market that could encourage the Federal Reserve to lay out a plan to start unwinding its massive bond portfolio.

Labor market strength was corroborated by other data on Thursday showing manufacturers in the mid-Atlantic region sharply increased hours for workers in August amid a jump in new orders and unfilled orders.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 232,000 for the week ended Aug. 12, the Labor Department said.

That was the lowest level since the week ended Feb. 25 when claims fell to 227,000, which was the best reading since March 1973. Data for the prior week was unrevised.

It was the 128th week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a robust labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The unemployment rate is 4.3 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 240,000 in the latest week. A Labor Department official said there were no special factors influencing the claims data and that no states had been estimated.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 500 to 240,500 last week.

Prices of U.S. Treasuries were trading lower as were U.S. stock index futures. The dollar <.DXY> was stronger against a basket of currencies.

LABOR MARKET STRENGTH Last week’s claims data covered the survey week for the August nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 3,500 between the July and August survey periods, suggesting another month of solid job growth.

Payrolls increased by 209,000 jobs in July. The economy has added 1.29 million jobs this year and the unemployment rate has fallen five-tenths of a percentage point.

Labor market tightness has, however, failed to generate strong wage growth, contributing to inflation consistently below the Fed’s 2 percent target.

Minutes of the U.S. central bank’s July 25-26 policy meeting showed policymakers appeared increasingly cautious about weak inflation, with some urging against further interest rate increases.

But labor market strength is probably sufficient for the Fed to outline a proposal to begin offloading its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities at its next policy meeting in September.

Most economists expect another rate hike in December. The Fed has increased borrowing costs twice this year.

In a second report on Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed said its index of manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region slipped to 18.9 this month from 19.5 in July.

Despite the modest pullback, manufacturers reported increased demand for their products. The survey’s measure of new orders surged to 20.4 from 2.1 in July. Firms also reported that shipments continued to rise.

As a result, workers put in more hours. The average workweek index increased to 18.8 in August from 3.8 in the prior month.

A third report from the Fed showed manufacturing output fell 0.1 percent in July as the production of motor vehicles and parts tumbled 3.6 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. jobless claims rise; labor market still tightening

FILE PHOTO: Corporate recruiters (R) gesture and shake hands as they talk with job seekers in Washington, June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a tightening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000 for the week ended Aug. 5, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would be unchanged at 240,000 in the latest week. With the labor market near full employment, there is probably limited room for claims to continue declining. Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 127 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The unemployment rate is 4.3 percent.

Labor market tightness could encourage the Federal Reserve to announce a plan to start unwinding its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities at its policy meeting next month. A Labor Department official said there were no special factors influencing the claims data and that no states had been estimated.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,000 to 241,000 last week, the lowest level since May.

The government reported last week that nonfarm payrolls increased by 209,000 jobs in July. The economy has added 1.29 million jobs this year. That has resulted in the unemployment rate dropping five-tenths of a percentage point.

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell by16,000 to 1.95 million in the week ended July 29. The so-called continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 17straight weeks, pointing to diminishing labor market slack.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims edged up 500 to 1.97 million, still remaining below the 2 million mark for the 15th consecutive week.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)