Jobless claims in U.S. increase to highest level in a month

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits climbed last week to a one-month high, showing little progress in the labor market.

Jobless claims rose by 4,000 for a second week to reach 372,000 in the period ended Aug. 18, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 368,000.

Companies may be keeping payrolls lean after slashing headcounts during the recession while waiting for further assurances that economic growth will pick up. The European debt crisis and slowdown in Asia remain headwinds to investor and business confidence.

“We are stuck in this mediocre range for claims,” said Michael Hanson, a senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York. “In an uncertain environment, firms tend not to stick their neck out and make big hiring and investment decisions.”

Stock-index futures extended earlier losses after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in September fell 0.3 percent to 1,408.1 at 8:44 a.m. in New York.

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 355,000 to 373,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up to 368,000 from an initially reported 366,000.

A spokesman for the Labor Department said there was nothing unusual in the data last week, and no state was estimated as all reported.

Survey Week

Last week covered the period surveyed by the Labor Department to calculate this month’s payroll figures and jobless rate. The four-week moving average was down from 376,000 in the July survey week, which was pushed up by the timing of the annual auto factory shutdowns.

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 climbed by 4,000 in the week ended Aug. 11 to 3.32 million.

The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

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