Ahead of the Bell: Jobless claims

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WASHINGTON (AP) — New claims for unemployment benefits likely rose slightly last week, after falling to their lowest level in more than a year two weeks ago.

A Labor Department report Thursday is expected to show new requests for unemployment insurance rose by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 437,000, according to Wall Street economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Initial claims are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies’ willingness to hire new workers.

Claims have dropped steadily since last fall, as companies cut fewer jobs, raising hopes that employers may increase hiring soon. Initial claims have dropped by nearly 100,000, or 19 percent, since late October.

Last week’s report said 434,000 people filed first-time claims, up by only 1,000 from the previous week. Two weeks ago, claims dropped to their lowest level since July 2008, before the financial crisis intensified that fall. Thursday’s report is due at 8:30 a.m. EST.

Despite the recent drop in claims, the economy is not yet consistently generating net increases in jobs. The Labor Department said last week that employers cut 85,000 jobs in December, after adding 4,000 in November. November’s increase was the first in nearly two years. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 10 percent.

The number of people continuing to claim benefits, meanwhile, is forecast to drop by 30,000 to about 4.8 million. Those figures lag initial claims by a week.

But the so-called continuing claims do not include millions of people who have used up the regular 26 weeks of benefits typically provided by states, and are receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks, paid for by the federal government.

More than 5.4 million people were receiving extended benefits in the week ended Dec. 19, the latest data available, a jump of 165,000 from the previous week.

The increasing number of people claiming extended unemployment insurance indicates that even as layoffs are declining, hiring hasn’t picked up. That leaves people out of work for longer and longer periods of time.

Some employers are continuing to cut jobs. The struggling Internet company AOL Inc. said Monday it will lay off up to 1,200 employees.