Initial claims for jobless aid rise unexpectedly
Applications for unemployment benefits increased last week for the first time in five weeks.
Initial claims for jobless aid rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 465,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Many economists had expected a flat reading or small drop.
The rise suggests that jobs remain scarce and some companies are still cutting workers amid weak economic growth. Initial claims have fallen from a recent spike above a half-million last month. But they have been stuck above 450,000 for most of this year.
“What’s becoming increasingly clear is that this isn’t a normal recovery,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak. “There’s little we can do to create jobs until demand returns, and demand isn’t returning.”
Separately, the Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of leading economic indicators rose modestly in August, more evidence that the economy will keep growing at a slow pace through the fall.
Jobless claims typically drop below 400,000 when hiring is robust and the economy is growing.
The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure, declined 3,250 to 463,250. That’s the lowest level since the end of July, but down only 4,000 since January.
Initial claims, while volatile, are considered a realtime snapshot of the job market. The weekly claims figures are considered a measure of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies’ willingness to hire.
New requests for jobless benefits have fallen sharply since June 2009, the month the recession ended. They topped 600,000 at the end of that month. But most of the decline took place last year.
Economic growth has slowed considerably in recent months, and many employers are reluctant to add new employees. The economy grew at a 1.6% annual rate in the second quarter, an anemic pace that isn’t fast enough to reduce the jobless rate, now at 9.6% nationally. Growth in the current July-September quarter isn’t expected to be much faster.
Although layoffs have eased since the recession ended, hiring hasn’t picked up much. Businesses added only a net 67,000 jobs in August. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimated this month that the economy would need to generate as many as 300,000 net jobs every month to reduce the unemployment rate to 8% over the next two years.
The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell 48,000 to 4.49 million, the Labor Department said. But that doesn’t include several million people who are receiving jobless aid under extended programs approved by Congress during the recession.
The extended benefit rolls rose about 200,000 to nearly 5.2 million in the week ended Sept. 4, the latest data available.
Some companies are still cutting jobs. Cessna Aircraft Co. said Tuesday that it would lay off 700 workers.