WASHINGTON — The number of people in the country who applied last week for unemployment benefits rose above 350,000 for the first time in three weeks, but initial claims remained at a level consistent with a mildly improving labor market.
New jobless claims climbed by 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 354,000 in the week ended June 15, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims — a rough gauge of layoffs — to rise to 340,000 from a slightly revised 336,000 in the prior week.
The four-week average, a more reliable gauge than the volatile weekly number, rose by 2,500 to 348,250.
Applications for first-time unemployment benefits have hovered around the 350,000 mark through most of 2013, consistent with a slower pace of layoffs and somewhat improved hiring trends. The economy has added an average of 189,000 jobs a month so far this year.
The Federal Reserve, in its latest forecast, predicts hiring will pick up toward the end of 2013 and accelerate in the next few years. The central bank expects the unemployment rate, now at 7.6 percent, to fall to as low as 6.5 percent by the end of 2014 and perhaps even dip below 6 percent in 2015.
The bank’s sunnier outlook battered financial markets on Wednesday. The Fed’s low-interest rate strategy has helped to boost stock and bond prices, and many investors worry about a reversal once the central bank begins to pull back.
The Fed’s forecasts, however, are higher compared to those of most private economists, and the bank’s predictions in the past few years have proven to be overly optimistic. The latest vital signs of the economy show the U.S. expanding at around 2 percent or slightly less, similar to the rate of growth in the past few years.
Meanwhile, the number of people already receiving benefits, known as continuing claims, fell by 40,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.95 million in the week ended June 8. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag and reflect the number of people already receiving benefits.
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