U.S. weekly jobless claims fall more than expected

Fewer Americans filed new claims for jobless benefits last week. The Labor Department said Thursday initial applications for state unemployment benefits dropped to 730,000 from 841,000 the week before. That was a much steeper decline than economists had forecast.

But claims could rise in the coming week after the huge storm that slammed the South and caused extended blackouts across Texas.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week the central bank will keep interest rates low and pump money into the economy to bolster employment.

“The main thing that we can do is continue to support the economy, give it the support that it needs. We’re still 10 million jobs below the level of payroll jobs before the crisis. There is still a long way to go to full recovery.”

But economists point to hopeful signs such as the sharp rebound in retail sales in January and President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion recovery package. That has prompted them to raise their growth forecasts for the first quarter.