NEW claims for unemployment insurance rise after falling for three straight weeks

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After a three-week decline, new claims for state unemployment insurance rose last week, suggesting that some workers were having trouble holding onto their jobs in the sagging economy.

The number of workers filing new applications for jobless benefits increased by a seasonally adjusted 33,000 to 385,000 for the work week ending Aug. 4, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That pushed claims to their highest level since mid-July.

Claims had fallen sharply in the prior three weeks, offering hope that the rash of layoffs seen in recent months might be moderating a bit.

This time of year the claims figures usually bounce around a lot as automobile plants temporarily shut down to retool for new models and then later call workers back, economists say. That volatility can make seasonal adjustments difficult, analysts say.

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, fell last week to 380,000, the lowest level since the end of March, a sign that layoffs could be easing. The four-week moving average has been down for three weeks in a row.

In an effort to avert the first recession in the United States in 11 years, the Federal Reserve has cut short-term interest rates six times this year, totaling 2.75 percentage points. Many analysts believe the Fed will cut rates again at its next meeting Aug. 21.

The yearlong economic slowdown 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.

For the work week ending July 28, 13 states and territories reported an increase in jobless claims, while 39 reported a decrease. The state data lag a week behind the national figures and are not seasonally adjusted.