New claims for jobless benefits rose moderately last week but remained at levels well below recent highs, suggesting no big change in layoffs ahead of the important jobs report for July to be issued Friday.
The Labor Department said Thursday that 365,000 workers filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits in the week that ended Saturday. That was an increase of 8,000 from the prior week.
Analysts were expecting a bigger weekly increase in filings. Looking at the data over a longer period, to smooth out some of the week-to-week volatility, initial jobless claims averaged 365,500 over the four weeks that ended Saturday. That’s a drop of 2,750 from the previous four-week moving average and down considerably from the upper range of 380,000 in late May and much of June.
The improving trend in jobless filings heartened some analysts, but others pointed out that the problem with the job market hasn’t been layoffs. It’s weak hiring by employers, some of whom are reacting to slowing sales while many others are holding back because of uncertainties about Europe and the fiscal and political outlook at home.
The U.S. economy added an average of just 75,000 jobs a month in the second quarter — a sharp drop from the 225,000 average in the first quarter. Economists expect Friday’s report to show that employers created a net 100,000 jobs in July, better than in June but barely enough to keep up with the natural growth in the workforce population.
At that level of job growth, the unemployment rate is likely to remain stuck at an uncomfortably high 8.2%.