WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 361,000, a level consistent with modest gains in hiring.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average rose by 2,250 to 368,250 in the week that ended Aug. 4.
Weekly applications bounced around in July, skewed by the difficulty of accounting for temporary summertime layoffs in the auto industry. The seasonal distortions had faded by last week.
Applications measure the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said fewer unemployment applications suggest that job market is fairly stable.
"The pick-up in jobs growth in July may therefore be sustained in August," Dales said.
The economy added 163,000 jobs in July, the biggest increase since February. From April through June, employers had created a lackluster 73,000 jobs a month, not enough to keep up with a rising population.
"The improvement in jobless claims has been a most welcome development," said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. But he noted that unemployment claims were still high considering the recession ended more than three years ago. Claims averaged 328,000 in November 2004, three years after the 2001 recession: "So clearly more work needs to be done," he says.