Last week initial claims for unemployment insurance increased to 324,000, some 3,000 more than the previous week's revised figure of 321,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported on March 24. The department's four-week moving average of initial claims, generally considered a better reflection of underlying labor market conditions because it smooths out week-to-week changes, also increased last week. The average was 321,750 claims, an increase of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average of 318,250.
Merrill Lynch & Co., New York, noting that initial jobless claims have risen steadily since mid February, is holding to its belief that jobs are being created at a slower rate this month than during February. Merrill expects March employment data, slated to be released in early April, to show about 200,000 jobs created this month, roughly 62,000 fewer than in February.