Jobless claims rise, labor market healing very slowly

WASHINGTON, Thu Aug 23, 2012 –The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, suggesting the labor market is healing too slowly to make much of a dent in the unemployment rate.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the highest level in five weeks.

The data keeps pressure on President Barack Obama ahead of his November re-election bid. His Republican challenger is trying to focus voters’ attention on a lofty unemployment rate that has dogged Obama’s presidency.

Many economists think the Federal Reserve could unveil a new bond buying program to prop up economic growth as soon as its next meeting Sept 12-13, although an improvement in hiring this month could make that less likely.

The report on jobless claims did have a silver lining, however.

The data covers the same week looked at by the government for its monthly measure of employment, and showed a slight drop in layoffs from the survey week last month, which is a mildly positive signal for hiring in August.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labor market trends, was 368,000 last week. That was a slight increase from the prior week, but still 2.1 percent lower than in the second week of July.