A separate government report showed that construction spending remained anemic in February, and a business survey of corporate purchasing managers suggested that industrial activity slowed in March.
Samuel D. Kahan, an economist with Fuji Securities in Chicago, portrayed the national economic expansion as a "steak without any sizzle." But he also said there was no danger of the expansion ending soon.
He estimated that the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, would continue to grow at between a 2 percent and 2.5 percent rate until midyear and then increase to about 3 percent. In the fourth quarter last year, growth was at an annual rate of 4.7 percent.
Economist Sung Won Sohn, of the Norwest Corp. in Minneapolis, said the slower growth this year has been "a welcome phenomenon because the nation cannot afford a spending spree given the heavy debt burden on the part of consumers and businesses."
JOBLESS CLAIMS. The report showed that 380,000 newly laid-off workers filed applications for unemployment insurance during the week ended March 27, the most since 382,000 during the week ended Nov. 7.
Analysts said the size of the increase was probably due in part to the mid- March blizzard. The storm closed many unemployment offices, forcing many applicants to postpone their claims, and delaying delivery of parts to factories that triggered some plant closings.
In the week ended March 20, new claims for state unemployment benefits fell 1,507 in New Jersey to 9,479, but claims in Delaware rose 76 to 877.
PURCHASING MANAGERS. The National Association of Purchasing Management said a survey of its members found the manufacturing economy continuing to grow in March for the sixth straight month but at a slower pace than in January and February.
The Purchasing Managers' Index, a calculation based on the survey results, dipped to 53.4 percent in March from 55.8 percent in February and 58 percent in January.
CONSTRUCTION SPENDING. The Commerce Department said spending to build new homes, offices and factories inched up just 0.1 percent in February after falling 0.5 percent a month earlier. Outlays totaled $438.4 billion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, compared with $437.9 billion in January.
Residential construction was off 0.2 percent in February after rising 1.4 percent in January. Construction of single-family homes fell 0.4 percent, the first drop since last June. Analysts attributed the slowdown in large part to winter weather.