WASHINGTON -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits likely fell
last week to a level that signals only modest hiring.
forecast that weekly applications dropped to a seasonally adjusted
370,000, down from 382,000 the previous week. The Labor Department will
release the report at 8:30 a.m. EDT Thursday.
by 15,000 two weeks ago, the biggest increase in nearly two months. But
the gain was driven by the fallout from Hurricane Isaac, which disrupted
economic activity in nine states and boosted applications by 9,000.
Weekly unemployment benefit applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. They have been near 370,000 since the spring.
applications fall consistently below 375,000, it usually indicates that
hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate. But even though
layoffs remain at low levels, overall hiring has been weak.
added only 96,000 jobs last month, below the 141,000 in July and much
lower than the average 226,000 added in the first three months of the
year. Recent job gains are barely enough to keep up with the growth of
the working age population and aren't enough to rapidly drive down
The unemployment rate dropped in August to 8.1
percent from 8.3 percent, but only because the number of people working
or looking for work fell.
A separate monthly report from the Labor
Department earlier this month showed that layoffs were at the lowest
level in July in the 11 years the government has tracked the data.
economy isn't growing fast enough to support much more hiring. It grew
at a tepid 1.7 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, down from 2
percent in the January-March quarter and 4.1 percent in the final three
months of last year.
Growth isn't likely to get much better for
the rest of this year. Economists expect it to grow at a roughly 2
percent pace. That's typically too weak to create enough jobs to lower
the unemployment rate.
High unemployment and sluggish growth
prompted the Federal Reserve to announce several major steps to boost
the economy last week. Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed will buy $40
billion of mortgage-backed securities a month until there is
"substantial" improvement in the job market.
Bernanke said at a news conference that high unemployment is "a grave concern" that causes "enormous suffering."