By Jeffrey Sparshott and Eric Morath
WASHINGTON–The number of U.S. workers filing applications for jobless benefits fell slightly last week, suggesting that the labor market is stabilizing.
Initial jobless claims, an indication of layoffs, decreased by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 361,000 in the week ended Aug. 4, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 370,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week.
Claims for the week ending July 28 were revised up to 367,000 from an initially reported 365,000.
The four-week moving average of claims, which smoothes out often volatile weekly data, rose by 2,250 to 368,250.
A Labor Department official said there were no unusual factors in Thursday’s report.
Jobless claims data has been volatile in recent weeks, and economists have been careful not to read too much into any single report. But the broad trend appears to have improved since June, when claims ranged around 385,000 a week.
“The longer the series remains near its current level, the more credible the lower range will seem,” economists at Wrightson ICAP said before Thursday’s numbers were released.
Typically job creation increases when layoffs decline.
So far this year, hiring has been uneven. A separate Labor Department report last week showed that the economy added 163,000 jobs in July, the biggest monthly gain since February and a welcome relief after a weaker June. But the politically important unemployment ticked up to 8.3%.
Policy makers at the Federal Reserve are closely monitoring the employment situation as they weigh another round of stimulus. At a meeting last week, officials said they “will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions.”
The Fed’s policy makers next meet formally on Sept. 12 and 13.
Thursday’s Labor data showed the number of continuing unemployment benefit claims–those drawn by workers for more than a week–increased by 53,000 to 3,332,000 in the week ended July 28. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.
The number of workers requesting unemployment insurance was equivalent to 2.6% of employed workers paying into the system in the week ended July 28, the same as the prior week.
The Labor Department report on jobless claims can be accessed at: http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/eta/ui/current.htm.
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