Applications for US jobless aid likely rose 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.

INCREASE EXPECTED: Economists forecast that weekly applications increased to 298,000, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be up from 289,000 in the prior report.

The less volatile four-week moving average has steadily fallen to a level of 293,500. That's the lowest reading since February 2006, almost two years before the Great Recession erupted at the end of2007.

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

BETTER JOBS PICTURE: Employers in June advertised the most monthly job openings in more than 13 years, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

Employers posted 4.67 million jobs in June, up 2.1 percent from May's total of 4.58 million, the Labor Department reported Tuesday. The number of advertised openings was the highest since February 2001, suggesting that hiring should continue to be solid in the coming months.

Still, the report showed that the hiring rate has not risen over the past year as quickly as the number of positions being advertised.

Job openings have increased 17.6 percent during the past 12 months, while hiring has risen 9.3 percent during the same period.

Yet the monthly net job gains have been solid in the past six months.

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 the greater the number of people with jobs, the greater the total number of paychecks, which could drive consumer spending and growth.