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

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.

DECREASE LIKELY: Economists forecast that weekly applications ticked down to 301,000, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be down from 302,000 in the prior report. Weekly jobless claims dipped to 279,000 at one point this summer, the lowest since May 2000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 3,500 to 297,250 in the prior week. That's the lowest average since April 2006, more than a year before the Great Recession unfolded at the end of 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers hold onto their workers, it suggests potential income gains, more hiring activity and confidence that the economy is improving.

STEADY JOB GAINS: Employers added 209,000 jobs in July, the sixth straight month of job gains above 200,000. The economy has now produced an average 244,000 jobs a month since February.

The recent spurt of hiring has encouraged more people to start looking for work, causing the unemployment rate to inch up to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent. The government only counts people searching for jobs as unemployed.

Hiring has yet to boost 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.