WASHINGTON - Applications for jobless benefits dropped last week for the third time in four weeks, a sign that employers are cutting fewer jobs.
New claims for jobless benefits fell by 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 453,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Still, they are higher than they would be in a healthy economy and not low enough to signal rapid job growth.
The claims figures are "mildly encouraging" and "moving in the right direction," said Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital. But they need to fall to between 400,000 and 425,000 to indicate hiring is picking up, he said.
In a separate report, the Commerce Department said economic growth slowed in the second quarter, to a 1.7 percent annual rate from 3.7 percent in the January-March quarter.
The second quarter gross domestic product figure is slightly higher than last month's estimate of 1.6 percent. The modest upward revision was the result of a little more consumer spending than first estimated, but hardly enough to have a significant impact on the broader economy.
Most economists expect growth to be similarly weak in the July-September quarter, with estimates ranging between 1.5 percent and 2 percent. The government's first report on third quarter GDP will be released Oct. 29.
Applications for unemployment benefits provide a real-time snapshot of the job market. The weekly claims figures are considered a measure of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire. Initial claims have fallen sharply since June, 2009, the month the recession ended.