The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits barely fell last week, a government report showed on Thursday, suggesting the labor market was struggling to regain momentum.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped just 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 428,000, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 420,000. The prior week's figure was unrevised at 429,000.
It was the 12th straight week that claims have been above 400,000, a level that is usually associated with a stable labor market. Employment stumbled badly in May, with employers adding just 54,000 jobs -- the fewest in eight months.
"Payroll growth is going to be more like last month's rather than first three months of the year," said Troy Davig, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital in New York.
Nonfarm payrolls are expected to have increased 90,000 this month, according to a Reuters survey, with the unemployment rate edging down to 9.0 percent. The employment report for June will be released on July 8.
Stock index futures pared gains on the disappointing data, but prices for U.S. government debt fell.
A Labor Department official said one state was estimated, noting there was nothing unusual in the state-level details.
The continued elevation of claims could raise concerns that the economic soft patch in the first half of the year could linger. The economy has been slammed by bad weather, high gasoline prices and supply chain disruptions after the March earthquake in Japan.
However, many economists and the Federal Reserve believe activity will pick-up in the third quarter as these temporary factors ease.
The four-week moving average of unemployment claims, a better measure of underlying trends, nudged up 500 to 426,750.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 12,000 to 3.70 million in the week ended June 18. So-called continuing claims covered the survey week for the employment report's household survey, from which the unemployment rate is derived.
The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits climbed 1,471 to 3.30 million in the week ended June 11, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 7.51 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, down 30,701 from the prior week.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, additional reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Neil Stempleman)
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