Applications for jobless aid rise sharply

Some 457,000 workers filed new applications for unemployment benefits last week, an increase of 20,000, indicating that employers are still reluctant to hire.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial jobless claims to climb to a seasonally adjusted 445,000 in the week ended Oct. 30. Claims for last week were revised up 3,000 to 437,000, according to Labor Department data.

The latest increase put weekly claims back at the same level as the end of 2009, meaning there's been no change this year. Economists believe claims have to start moving toward 400,000 to signify improved hiring trends, but they've hovered around 450,000 or higher throughout 2010.

A more accurate gauge of employment trends is the four-week average of initial claims, which is less volatile than the weekly number. The four-week average was little changed, falling 2,000 to 456,000.

Recent economic data show scant evidence that the U.S. is starting to add jobs at a rapid clip. Most companies don't plan to hire until demand for goods and services increase and the pace of economic growth quickens.

The U.S. expanded at a mediocre 2% pace in the third quarter, just slightly above a second-quarter rate of 1.7%. Growth of 3% or more is usually associated with a strong economy.

In the week ended Oct. 23, meanwhile, the government reported the number of workers who continued to receive benefits under regular state unemployment programs dropped 42,000 to 4.34 million. The four-week average of continuing claims declined 42,750 to 4.45 million. The data are seasonally adjusted.

All together, 8.88 million people were getting some kind of government benefit in the week ended Oct. 16, according to the latest data available. That was up from 8.45 million the previous week.

The unemployment claims report comes one day before the Labor Department is scheduled to release the jobs figures for October. Economists project that report will show that employers added a net total of 60,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained 9.6% for the third straight month.

Bartash writes for

Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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