New claims for unemployment benefits inched up by 3,000 to 250,000 to end 2017, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.
Low jobless claims are a good sign for the economy. Forecasters had expected claims to drift down from 245,000 to 240,000, according to Bloomberg. Instead, they rose to the highest level since November — but remain very low.
Any report showing new claims below roughly 300,000 suggests that unemployment will stay steady or keep falling. That mark hasn't been hit since early 2015, as new claims have scraped some of the lowest levels in decades.
Thursday's jobless claims report will help set expectations for Friday's report on payroll jobs for December.
The "data continue to signal strength in employment growth," noted High Frequency Economics forecaster Jim O'Sullivan, projected that Friday's jobs report would show 210,000 new jobs.
With unemployment already at 4.1 percent, the lowest since the dotcom bubble, some officials at the Federal Reserve think that it can't go much lower without inflation rising out of control.
The Trump administration and congressional Republicans, have suggested that many more people could be brought into the workforce, keeping up a high pace of job creation even as the unemployment rate dwindles. That was part of the stated motivation for the tax cut legislation and for the infrastructure package that President Trump has called for this year.
Agencies are still having trouble processing applications for unemployment in hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the Department of Labor said.