Jobless Claim Totals Uptick – But Only By a Sliver

August 14, 2003 ( - For the first time in four weeks, the number of workers lining up to file for initial jobless benefits was up for the week ending August 9 - albeit by a relatively slim margin.

According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), the unemployment claims total was 398,000, up 2,000 from the week before. But it was the fourth straight report in which the claims total stayed below the benchmark 400,000 level (See    Jobless Claims Queue Keeps Shrinking ). The benchmark is a widely accepted dividing line between a healthy job market and a slumbering one.

Heading the other way from the claims total was t he four-week moving claims average, which irons out short-term volatility. The DoL said the average inched down 4,250 to 394,250, its lowest level since mid-February. The four-week average has now dropped for five straight weeks.

Analysts said the latest DoL data suggests that   the labor market, which has shed jobs for the last six months, may finally be getting back its sea legs and may even be starting to show marginal improvement. In another hopeful sign, the number of Americans who remained on the benefit rolls in the August 2 week, fell by 6,000 to 3.66 million.

Economists participating in Reuters’ weekly poll   were off in their predictions for the August 9 claims total. They had called for the total to hold steady at the 390,000 level originally reported for the August 2 week.