WASHINGTON -- Initial claims for unemployment benefits were unchanged last week at 374,000, slightly higher than analysts had expected, indicating jobs growth was still sluggish.
The four-week average for jobless claims ticked up to 370,250 from the previous week’s revised figure of 368,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. Seasonally adjusted initial claims have been slowly increasing since the week ending July 21, when the number was 357,000.
The data point toward little movement in the unemployment rate in August, which the government is scheduled to release on Sept. 7.
“The U.S. labor market is healing gradually, but August is shaping up to be slightly weaker than anticipated,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics.
Weekly jobless claims could increase next week as the effects of Hurricane Isaac are felt on the economy, but the effect should be small, he said.
Friday’s figures on initial unemployment claims led Moody’s to lower its expectation for August job growth to 140,000 from an earlier projection of 150,000, he said.
The unemployment rate was 8.3% in July, when the economy added 163,000 net new jobs. The August jobs report likely will be a key factor when Federal Reserve policymakers meet next month to decided if they should launch another round of stimulative bond buying.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke could give more hints about Fed action in an eagerly anticipated speech Friday at the central bank’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo.