Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign the labor market may keep improving after employment picked up in July.
Jobless claims unexpectedly dropped by 6,000 to 361,000 in the week ended Aug. 4, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 43 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase to 370,000. A spokesman for the agency said there was nothing unusual in the data.
Fewer firings mean employers are seeing enough demand to retain staff, indicating the worldâ€™s largest economy is sustaining the recovery from the recession. Labor Department data last week showed payrolls rose more than forecast in July.
â€œThe labor market is slowly but steadily improving despite all the uncertainty created by the European financial problems, the election and the fiscal cliff,â€ Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania, said before the report. â€œThere is no reason to think that job payroll increase posted in July cannot be duplicated in the months to come.â€
Stock-index futures trimmed losses after the figures. The contract on the Standard & Poorâ€™s 500 Index expiring in September dropped 0.1 percent to 1,396.9 at 8:33 a.m. in New York, after falling as much as 0.3 percent.
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 359,000 to 385,000. The Labor Department revised the previous weekâ€™s figure up to 367,000 from an initially reported 365,000.
A Labor Department spokesman said last week that todayâ€™s data should be clear of any influence from the annual auto plant retooling closures that make it difficult to adjust the data for seasonal variations.