New jobless claims fell last week for the third time in four weeks but remain elevated.
The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped by 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000.
Claims have fluctuated this month because of temporary seasonal factors. General Motors and other manufacturers skipped their traditional summer shutdowns, which led to fewer layoffs and unemployment claims. But the impact of that distortion has largely faded from the data, a Labor Department analyst said.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths fluctuations, dropped to 452,500, the lowest level since May.
That suggests layoffs may be easing. Still, claims at that level indicate the job market is still weak and employers are reluctant to hire.
Requests for unemployment insurance fell steadily last year from their peak of 651,000, reached in March 2009. But they have remained stuck above 450,000 for most of this year. In a healthy economic recovery with rapid hiring, claims usually fall below 400,000.
The economy has grown since last summer, but the pace of growth is slowing. The government is scheduled Friday to release an estimate of gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy's output, for the April-June period. Economists forecast it will show growth slowed to a 2.5 percent annual rate, down from 2.7 percent in the first quarter and 5.6 percent in last year's fourth quarter.
The number of people continuing to claim unemployment benefits rose by 81,000 to 4.57 million. That doesn't include an additional 3.67 million of the unemployed that are receiving extended benefits paid for by the federal government.
During the recession, Congress added up to 73 weeks of extra benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. Those extended benefits were interrupted last month when Republicans blocked an extension. But Congress has since reinstated the program through November.
Some companies are still cutting jobs. Industrial conglomerate United Technologies said Monday that it will eliminate 1,500 positions this year and next, on top of 900 job cuts it has already made in 2010.
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