Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits was little changed last week, bringing the average over the past month to the lowest level since late March, a sign the labor market has stabilized after employment picked up in July.
Jobless claims climbed by 2,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Aug. 11, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase to 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 363,750, the fewest since the week ended March 31.
Employers may be limiting firings as the pace of sales warrants keeping current staff levels, which will probably underpin consumer spending. A pickup in demand and an agreement to forestall the fiscal cliff of tax increases and government spending cuts following the presidential election will probably be needed to induce an increase in hiring.
“It’s certainly further evidence the labor market doesn’t look like it’s in danger of falling off a cliff,” said Jeremy Lawson, senior U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York. “At the same time, the hiring rate is still fairly soft.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 350,000 to 375,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up to 364,000 from an initially reported 361,000.
A spokesman for the Labor Department said there was nothing unusual in the data last week.
Housing starts fell 1.1 percent to a 746,000 annual rate in July, a report from the Commerce Department also showed today.
Stock-index futures extended earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in September rose 0.1 percent to 1,405.5 at 9:14 a.m. in New York.
Employers added 163,000 workers last month, the biggest gain since February, according to the Labor Department jobs report issued earlier this month. The figures also showed the jobless rate climbed to a five-month high of 8.3 percent.
Unemployment has been above 8 percent since February 2009 - - the longest stretch in the post-World War II era.
Today’s report showed the number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits declined by 31,000 in the week ended Aug. 4 to 3.31 million.
The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
Those who’ve used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments decreased by about 63,900 to 2.36 million in the week ended July 28.