WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits was unchanged last week at a seasonally adjusted 374,000, suggesting slow improvement in the job market.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 370,250.
Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Unemployment applications have risen slightly over the past three weeks. Last week's number was revised upward to 374,000 from the 372,000 that was reported initially. That was its second straight increase.
Still, applications are lower than they were six weeks ago. That raises hopes for a solid gain when the government releases its August jobs report next Friday.
Employers added 163,000 jobs in July. The hiring gains were an improvement from the previous three months, when the economy created an average of only 73,000 a month. But they weren't enough to lower the unemployment rate, which rose to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent in June.
When the government releases the August jobs report on Sept. 7, analysts expect it to say that the economy added 118,000 jobs in August and that the unemployment rate held at 8.3 percent, according to FactSet.
Economists say stronger growth is needed to create more jobs and lower unemployment.
The economy grew at a tepid 1.7 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, the government said Wednesday. That's much slower growth than the 2 percent rate in the January-March quarter and 4.1 percent rate in the final three months of 2011.
Economists expect the economy will keep growing modestly in the second half of the year but at a subpar rate of roughly 2 percent. Growth at or below 2 percent is not enough to lower the unemployment rate. Most economists expect the unemployment rate to stay above 8 percent for the rest of this year.
A weak economy and high unemployment could hurt President Barack Obama re-election chances and bolster Mitt Romney's campaign. Republicans in Tampa, Fla., this week to nominate Romney have pointed to the dismal growth in making the case to elect their candidate.
The Labor Department's report Thursday said the number of people receiving benefits continues to decline. The total fell to 5.5 million in the week ended Aug. 11, the latest period for which figures are available. That's down about 62,000 from the previous week.
Some of the decline likely results from people finding jobs. Many also are exhausting their benefits because of the still-struggling economy and job market.
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