Ahead of the Bell: US unemployment benefits

Applications for US unemployment aid likely remained at 270,000, as layoffs stay low

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Thursday.

NO CHANGE: Economists forecast that weekly applications for unemployment aid remained at a still-low 270,000 last week, according to a survey by data firm FactSet.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The steady decline in job cuts in the past year suggests that employers are confident about the health of the economy and see little need to shed workers.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, stood at 268,250 last week, 11 percent lower than a year ago.

STEADY JOB MARKET GAINS: The decline in people seeking unemployment aid echoes other data that points to a modestly improving job market.

Employers hired nearly 5.2 million people in June, the government said Wednesday, the most in six months and the second-highest total since the Great Recession ended in 2009.

That figure represents gross hires, while the monthly jobs data the government also reports are a net total that calculates total hires minus layoffs, quits and other departures.

In July, employers added a net 215,000 jobs, and the unemployment remained at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.

The economy has generated 5.6 million jobs in the past two years, putting more paychecks into Americans' hands. But the steady gains and falling unemployment rate have yet to boost wages.

Average hourly pay increased just 2.1 percent in July from 12 months earlier, far below the 3.5 percent to 4 percent gains that have historically occurred in healthy economies.

One trend holding back pay has been sluggish increases in worker productivity. Productivity measures output per hour worked and is a gauge of efficiency.

It has expanded just 0.3 percent in the past year, far below the 2.2 percent average annual gain of the past six decades.

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