The number of U.S. workers filing applications for jobless benefits rose last week, though the overall trend for claims suggests that the labor market has improved slightly since early this summer.
Initial jobless claims, an indication of layoffs, increased by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000 in the week ended Aug. 11, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 365,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week.
Claims for the week ending Aug. 4 were revised up to 364,000 from an initially reported 361,000.
The four-week moving average of claims, which smoothes out often choppy weekly data, fell by 5,500 to 363,750, the lowest level since the end of March.
A Labor Department official said there were no unusual factors in Thursday’s report.
Jobless claims data have 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. July claims averaged 366,000 a week.
“The trend in initial claims will gain more credibility the longer it lasts,” Wrightson ICAP said ahead of Thursday’s release.
Typically job creation increases when layoffs decline.
So far this year, hiring has been fitful. A separate Labor Department report out early this month showed that the economy added 163,000 jobs in July, the biggest monthly gain since February and a welcome relief after a weak 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 earlier this month, 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–decreased by 31,000 to 3,305,000 in the week ended Aug. 4. 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 Aug. 4, unchanged from the prior week.