Applications for jobless aid up slightly

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose a slight 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, evidence that the job market’s recovery remains modest and uneven.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 3,750 to 368,000.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Applications have risen for two straight weeks. Some economists said that indicates that hiring in August may slow from July’s solid gain of 163,000 jobs.

The increases “suggest ... that job growth continued in August, but at a slower rate than July’s pop,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets. “So job growth there shall be, but not strong enough.”

Weak hiring may prompt the Federal Reserve to take more action to stimulate the economy, Lee said. At the Fed’s last meeting, policymakers signaled that they were moving closer to launching another round of bond-buying, according to minutes released Wednesday. The goal of more bond purchases would be to lower longer-term interest rates to encourage more borrowing and spending.

Meanwhile, fewer people continue to receive benefits. The total fell to 5.6 million in the week that ended Aug. 4, the latest period for which figures are available. That’s down about 110,000 from the previous week.

Some of that decline may have resulted from those out of work finding jobs. But many also likely exhausted all their benefits.

The economy and job growth have been improving a bit after falling into a midyear slump, though neither is particularly strong.

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