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AP News

Ahead of the Bell: US Unemployment Benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits probably changed little last week, suggesting only modest hiring.

Economists forecast that weekly applications ticked up by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, according to a survey by FactSet. The Labor Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. EDT Thursday.

That's close to the four-week average of 368,000 that the department reported last week. Applications appear to be stabilizing after a few weeks in which the department had problems adjusting for seasonal factors.

Weekly applications have fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 since January. At the same time, employers have added an average of nearly 150,000 jobs a month. That's barely enough to lower the unemployment rate, which has declined from 8.3 percent to 7.8 percent this year.

The weak job market has been a top issue for voters in this year's presidential election, which is down to its final days. The unemployment claims will be reported one day ahead of the October jobs report, the last broad snapshot of the job market before Tuesday's election.

The report on unemployment benefits will cover the week that ended Oct. 27 and will not include people affected by Hurricane Sandy. The storm flooded parts of New Jersey and New York City, disrupted business activity from North Carolina to Maine and cut off power to more than 7 million homes. That will likely increase applications in the coming weeks. Workers who have been temporarily laid off because of the storm are expected to seek benefits.

The economy picked up slightly this summer after a sluggish spring. Growth rose to a 2 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, up from 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter. Consumers and the federal government spent more, and the housing market contributed to growth for the sixth straight quarter.

Still, the economy is growing too slowly to rapidly bring relief to roughly 12 million out-of-work Americans. With the unemployment rate still high, steady growth of more than 3 percent is generally needed to create a sufficient number of jobs.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September. That's the first time the rate has been below 8 percent since January 2009, President Barack Obama's first month in office. The rate fell because a government survey of households found a huge increase in the number of people who had jobs. Still, a jump in part-time employment accounted for most of the gain.

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