Jobless Claims Rise, Market Still Healthy

The number of newly laid off people signing up for jobless benefits went up modestly last week, although the latest figures suggest employment conditions around the country remain good.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance rose by a seasonally adjusted 4,000 to 307,000 for the week ending July 28. That was a better showing than economists expected; they were forecasting claims to rise to 310,000.

New claims also are lower now than a year ago, when they stood at 315,000.

The four-week moving average of new claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, fell last week by 3,500 to 305,500. That was the lowest level since late May.

Also encouraging: The number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits sank by 16,000 to 2.5 million for the work week ending July 21, the most recent period for which this information is available.

Even as economic growth has seesawed, companies have hired at a steady and decent pace.

Economists predict that companies added 135,000 new jobs to their payrolls in July, about the same as the 132,000 positions added in June. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 4.5 percent, relatively low by historical standards. The government releases July's employment report on Friday.

Still, there's been pain from the sour housing market and from the meltdown involving higher-risk "subprime" mortgages. Affected industries have seen some job losses.

The Federal Reserve meets next week and is widely expected to hold an important interest rate at 5.25 percent, extending a more than yearlong breather for borrowers. Before that, the Fed had boosted interest rates for two years to fend off inflation.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues, however, still believe inflation is a potential threat to the economy. One of the things they are watching closely is whether the sturdy labor market — which has allowed some workers to command higher wages and benefits — could add to inflation pressures.

High gasoline and food prices in recent months, however, have pinched and made some workers feel that any increases in their paychecks haven't been large enough.