Getty Images The nation’s unemployment rate is the lowest in decades, but layoffs increased in February.
The numbers: The number of people who applied for jobless benefits in the past month rose to a one-year high, a possible sign the U.S. labor market might be losing some steam.
The four-week average of new jobless claims climbed by 6,750 last week to 231,750, marking the highest level since the January 2018, the government said Thursday.
Weekly jobless claims, meanwhile, rose by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 239,000 in the seven days ended Feb. 9, the government said Thursday.
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to 225,000.
The monthly average is viewed as more stable since it smoothens out the weekly gyrations.
The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, increased by 37,000 to 1.77 million.
They fell below 2 million almost two years ago and remain near the lowest levels in decades, however.
Read: Working Americans reap benefits of tepid inflation and rising wages
What happened: Jobless claims often fluctuate widely and are hard to gauge early in a new year following the holiday season.
What’s potentially troubling about the latest report is that raw claims — the actual number of people seeking benefits — were higher in early February than they were at the same time last year. That’s rarely been the case during the current economic expansion that began almost 10 years ago.
Read: The rise of the robots and decline of inflation: How AI is keeping prices low
Big picture: The economy has slowed since last fall, but it’s still growing steadily owing to strong hiring and extremely low unemployment. More people working means more people spending money and keeping the good times going.
If companies start to reduce hiring and lay off more workers, however, it would be an ominous sign. The claims report bears close watching in the next few weeks.
Read: Inflation? What inflation? Falling price pressures clear runway for economy in 2019
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.46% and S&P 500 SPX, +0.30% were set to open higher in Thursday trades, but higher than expected jobless claims and a big drop in December retail sales won’t be welcome news.
The 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, -1.96% was little changed at 2.7%. Yields are much lower compared to late last year, when they hit a seven-year high of 3.23%.