Initial claims for jobless benefits fell slightly last week, though they were consistent with a higher drift in layoffs that began in the spring, the reported the Department of Labor Thursday.
Jobless claims rose to 250,000 for the week ended Aug. 13, down 2,000 from the previous week and below the Dow Jones estimate of 260,000.
The four-week moving average for claims, which helps smooth out weekly volatility, also fell 2,750 to 246,750.
Earlier this year, claims had hit their lowest level in more than 50 years, but started to rise in April after bottoming out at 166,000. The four-week moving average has risen over that time by nearly 80,000.
Continuing claims, which are a week behind the headline number, totaled 1.437 billion, an increase of 7,000.
Policymakers are watching the labor market closely at a time when inflation is nearing 40-year highs. Federal Reserve officials have instituted a series of interest rate hikes aimed in part at cooling a labor market in which there are nearly two open jobs for every available worker.
At their July meeting, Fed officials noted “tentative signs of an outlook for labor market softening” that included an increase in weekly claims, according to minutes released Wednesday. Policymakers said they were determined to keep raising interest rates until inflation was under control, even if it meant more of a slowdown in hiring.
“Unfortunately, what’s good for the American worker is bad for the Fed’s attempt to return inflation to 2% and that will make their job harder and push rates higher and longer than a lot of people are currently waiting,” said Chris Zaccarelli. chief investment officer of the Independent Investor Alliance.
In other economic news Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed reported that its monthly manufacturing survey for August rose to a reading of 6.2, representing the percentage difference between companies expecting an expansion versus a contraction. That was an improvement over July’s minus-12.3.
The level was above the estimate of minus-5 and helped calm fears that manufacturing could be headed for a major slowdown. A similar survey on Monday at the New York Fed fell an impressive 40 points as respondents indicated that business conditions were deteriorating.
The indices of prices paid and received have decreased during the month, although they remain on a ground that indicates that inflation is still present. Hiring also improved and new orders, although the latter still registered a reading of -5.1.