NEW claims for unemployment insurance drop slightly

Thursday, September 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ New claims for state unemployment insurance dropped last week but remained at a level suggesting the labor market has not rebounded from the economic downturn that started last year.

The number of workers filing new applications for jobless benefits fell by a seasonally adjusted 3,000 to 402,000 for the work week ending Sept. 1, the Labor Department reported Thursday. For the previous week, a revised 405,000 workers filed for jobless benefits.

The claims figures have bounced up and down recently as automobile plants temporarily shut down to retool for new models and then later call workers back. Given that, economists tend to focus on another number as a barometer of the labor market's health _ the more stable four-week moving average of jobless claims.

The moving average, which smoothes out week-to-week fluctuations, increased last week by 3,500 to 398,000, the highest level since mid-July.

The softening economy has been hard on companies struggling with slumping demand. To cope, they have scaled back production and capital investment and laid off workers. In July, the unemployment rate held steady at 4.5 percent as businesses cut fewer workers than the month before. New data for August will be released Friday.

Many economists are hopeful the country will dodge a recession this year, but they still worry that serious deterioration in the labor market might entice people to curtail spending and tip the economy into recession.

For the work week ending Aug. 25, 31 states and territories reported decreases in jobless claims, while 20 reported increases. The state data lag a week behind the national figures and are not seasonally adjusted.

Reporting drops in claims were Michigan, down 2,117 with fewer layoffs in the auto industry; Missouri, 1,762 with fewer transportation-related layoffs; South Carolina, 1,402 with fewer manufacturing layoffs; and Wisconsin, 1,019 with fewer layoffs in construction, service and manufacturing industries.

The largest increases were in New York, 1,457; Virginia;, 673; and Ohio, 598.