Jobless Claims Edge Up Slightly

New claims for unemployment insurance inched up last week, suggesting the some people are having trouble holding onto their jobs even as the economy recovers from recession.

For the work week ending April 13, new claims for jobless benefits edged up by a seasonally adjusted 1,000 to 445,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Employment is considered a lagging economic indicator because businesses, which had shed workers during the slump, want to make sure the rebound is here to stay before hiring them back.

A government analyst said that the layoffs picture continues to be clouded by a technical fluke, which has caused the level of claims to be inflated over the last several weeks.

The distortion is coming from a requirement that laid-off workers seeking to take advantage of a federal extension for benefits must required to submit new claims.

Congress recently passed legislation signed into law by President Bush that provided a 13-week extension of jobless benefits.

Because of the refiling requirement, the weekly claims figures — usually a good proxy for layoffs — could be volatile in the weeks ahead.

The more stable four-week moving average of new claims, which smoothes out week-to-week fluctuations, also rose last week to 448,750, the highest level since the middle of November.

Still, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress Wednesday, believed that the labor market is improving and didn't foresee a period of chronic unemployment.

Businesses added jobs in March for the first time in eight months, a clear sign that the economy is bouncing back from a recession that began in March 2001. But job growth wasn't strong enough to prevent the nation's unemployment rate from rising to 5.7 percent.

Thursday's report also showed that the number continuing to receive unemployment benefits rose to 3.84 million for the work week ending April 6. That was the highest level since Feb. 26, 1983.

That number, the government analyst said, is not being affected by unemployed people receiving benefit extensions under the new law.

Greenspan said that the behavior of consumers and businesses in the coming months will be the key to how strong the economic recovery turns out to be.

Consumers — whose spending accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States — continued buying throughout this recession. Given that, they may not have a lot of pent-up demand coming out of the slump, which would make for a less than sizzling rebound.

Surging oil prices also could damp consumer spending and business investment.

Against this backdrop, Greenspan indicated that the Fed — which slashed interest rates 11 times last year — is in not hurry to begin raising them.