WASHINGTON -- New claims for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week to 386,000, the biggest jump in more than a year as the labor market continued to show signs of struggling amid the weakening recovery.
The increase of 34,000 in initial jobless claims came a week after a dramatic drop to 350,000, the lowest level in more than four years. But that figure now looks like an outlier amid an avalanche of other data that show the economic recovery is stuck in low gear.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke this week delivered a downbeat assessment of the recovery as pressure builds on the central bank to take more action to stimulate growth.
On Thursday, the Labor Department revised the figure for the week ending July 7 up to 352,000 as it released the new data for the week ending July 14. The increase in jobless claims between those two weeks was the largest since the figure jumped 38,000 in April 2011.
The weekly jobless numbers can be volatile. The more stable four-week average at the end of last week was 375,500, down 1,500 from the previous week. But that figure was still above the 350,000 level that economists said indicates strong job growth.
Sara Kline, an economist with Moody’s Analytics, said she expected an increase last week given the unusual drop the previous week, but the jump was larger than anticipated.
The recent volatility stems largely from the difficulty of estimating the impact of summer auto factory shutdowns, she said, and cautioned about reading too much into either week’s numbers.
“Although worrisome, the latest change will need to be put in context in coming weeks to determine whether it is the start of a deteriorating trend or just more seasonal volatility,” Kline said. “That said, the sharp rise in claims is disappointing.”