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

INCREASE EXPECTED: Economists forecast that weekly applications rose to 302,000, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be up sharply after jobless claims plunged in the prior week to 284,000, the lowest level in more than eight years. The number of people seeking benefits has steadily dipped toward pre-recession levels over the past three months.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it suggests potential income gains, active hiring and confidence that the economy is growing.

A government report Wednesday showed the economy grew at a solid 4 percent annual pace in the April-June quarter. That followed a sharp 2.1 percent contraction in the first three months of the year.

The four-week average of applications for unemployment, a less volatile measure, dropped 7,250 to 302,000 in the prior week.

JOBS MOMENTUM: 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.

Economists forecast that the July employment report being released Friday will show that 225,000 jobs were added, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Payroll provider ADP said Wednesday that private employers added 218,000 jobs in July, down from 281,000 in June.

Steady hiring gains have yet to lift wages by much. Wage growth has slightly outpaced 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.