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People walk through downtown Manhattan in New York City. - Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

WASHINGTON: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased last week, suggesting some softening in the labor market, though overall conditions remain tight.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000 for the week ended July 30, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 259,000 applications for the latest week.

Claims broke above 230,000 at the beginning of June, hitting an eight-month high of 261,000 in mid-July. Still, they remain below the 270,000-300,000 range that economists say would signal a material slowdown in the labor market.

The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 48,000 to 1.416 million during the week ending July 23. The so-called continuing claims are a proxy for hiring.

The economy contracted 1.3% in the first half, meeting the standard definition of a recession. But with the labor market still churning out jobs at a brisk clip and layoffs low, the economy is not in recession, though overall momentum has cooled. Wild swings in inventories and the trade deficit tied to snarled global supply chains have been largely to blame for the two straight quarterly declines in gross domestic product.

There were 10.7 million job openings at the end of June, with 1.8 openings for every unemployed worker.

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For now, layoffs remain very low. A separate report from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas on Thursday showed job cuts announced by U.S.-based companies dropped 20.6% to 25,810 in July.

So far this year, employers have announced 159,021 layoffs down 31.3% from the same period last year and the fewest in January-July since 1993.

Job cuts this year have been concentrated in the automotive, technology and financial sectors. Chip shortages have hampered the auto industry, while layoffs in the technology and financial sector reflect cooling demand because of higher interest rates.

The Federal Reserve last week raised its policy rate by another three-quarters of a percentage point. The U.S. central bank has now hiked that rate by 225 basis points since March.

"Job cut levels are nowhere near where they were in the 2001 and 2008 recessions right now, though they may be ticking up," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "If we're in a recession, we have yet to feel it in the labor market."

The claims data has no bearing on July's employment report, which is scheduled to be released on Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 250,000 jobs in last month after rising by 372,000 in June. - Reuters


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