WASHINGTON (Lucia Mutikani) - New claims for unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week, according to a government report on Thursday that could add to fears the labor market recovery has taken a step back.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 422,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 428,000.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 415,000 from a previously reported count of 424,000.
The claims report falls outside the survey period for the government's closely watched data on nonfarm payrolls for May.
The government is expected to report on Friday that employers added 150,000 jobs last month, according to a Reuters survey, after increasing payrolls by 244,000 in April.
Initial claims have been volatile in recent weeks as supply chain disruptions from the March earthquake in Japan caused temporary motor vehicle plant closures.
Claims have also been distorted by bad weather in some parts of the country and problems smoothing the data for seasonal variations.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data, but noted that four states and territories, including Virginia and Oklahoma, had been estimated because of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.
He also said Missouri had indicated that floods were affecting claims in the state, but provided insufficient information to quantify the impact.
The four-week moving average of new jobless claims, considered a better gauge of labor market trends, fell 14,000 to 425,500.
Initial claims have now been perched above the 400,000 mark for eight weeks in a row. Analysts normally associate that level with steady job growth.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid slipped 1,000 to 3.71 million in the week ended May 21.
Economists had expected so-called continuing claims to dip to 3.67 million from a previously reported 3.69 million.
The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits rose 3,363 to 3.42 million in the week ended May 14, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 7.68 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.
(Editing by Neil Stempleman)
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