Applications for US jobless aid likely rose last week; layoffs still at pre-recession levels

Markets Associated Press

The U.S. Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. The report will be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Thursday.

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MODEST INCREASE: Economists forecast that weekly applications rose to 305,000, according to a survey by FactSet. That's up slightly from 302,000 in the prior week. The number of people seeking benefits remains close to the lowest level in seven years, a period shortly before the start of the recession.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers hold onto their workers, it's a sign of potential income gains, increased hiring and confidence that the economy will grow.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 3,000 to 309,000, the level since June 2007, about five months before the start of the recession.

STRONGER JOB MARKET: Employers added 288,000 jobs in June, the fifth straight month of job gains above 200,000. That's the first such stretch since 1999, during the height of the dot-com boom. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest since September 2008.

Total layoffs in May fell below pre-recession levels, the government reported last week. Job openings are at their highest level in seven years. Plus, more workers are quitting their jobs. That churn suggests that more people have faith in an improving economy, since workers generally quit when they have an offer for a better position or confidence that they can find one.

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Still, the steady hiring gains have yet to boost wages significantly. Wage growth has barely matched inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago.

But more people with jobs increases the total number of paychecks, which could boost consumer spending and growth. After a sharp contraction in the economy in the first three months of the year, most economists expect growth to return in the April-June quarter and exceed 3 percent at an annual pace in the second half of 2014.