WASHINGTON — Last week, the number of Americans filing for jobless benefits rose to the highest level in more than eight months, in what could be a sign the job market is weakening.
Jobless claims for the week ending July 16 rose by 7,000 to 251,000, up from 244,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That is the most since November 13, 2021, when 265,000 Americans applied for benefits.
Analysts polled by data firm FactSet had expected the number to reach 242,000.
First-time applications generally reflect layoffs.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out some of the week-to-week volatility, rose by 4,500 from the previous week to 240,500.
The total number of Americans who collected unemployment benefits during the week ending July 9 increased by 51,000 from the previous week, to 1,384,000. That number has been near 50-year lows for months.
Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that employers added 372,000 jobs in June, a surprisingly strong gain and similar to the pace of the previous two months. Economists had expected job growth to slow sharply last month given broader signs of economic weakness.
The unemployment rate stood at 3.6% for the fourth month in a row, matching a nearly 50-year low that was reached before the pandemic struck in early 2020.
The government also reported in early July that US employers posted fewer jobs in May amid signs the economy is weakening, though overall demand for workers remained strong. There are almost two job openings for every unemployed person.
Consumer prices continue to rise, up 9.1% in June compared to a year earlier, the biggest annual rise since 1981, the government reported last week.
The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week reached its highest level in nearly 8 months, but the total number of people who received benefits decreased. The Labor Department also reported last week that inflation at the wholesale level rose 11.3% in June from a year earlier.
All those numbers paint a divergent picture of the post-pandemic economy: Inflation is hitting household budgets, forcing consumers to cut spending, and growth is weakening, raising fears that the economy may fall into recession.
In an effort to combat the worst inflation in more than four decades, the Federal Reserve raised rates by a half point in May and another unusual three-quarter hike last month. Most economists expect the Federal Reserve to raise its lending rate by between a half point and three-quarters of a point when it meets later this month.
Although the job market remains strong, Tesla, Netflix, Carvana, Redfin, and Coinbase have recently announced some high-profile layoffs.