WASHINGTON - More Americans unexpectedly filed applications for unemployment insurance last week, signaling firings stepped up as the economy slowed.
Initial jobless claims rose by 2,000 to 484,000 in the week ended Aug. 7, the highest level since mid-February, U.S. Labor Department figures showed Thursday. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits dropped, while those getting supplemental benefits surged by 1.34 million, reflecting the government's extension of eligibility.
Companies may be losing confidence in the recovery and are hesitant to hire, raising the risk of more erosion in consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy. Federal Reserve policymakers said growth "is likely to be more modest" than projected, prompting central bankers to take more steps to spur a rebound.
"There's still considerable uncertainty about the economic outlook," said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities International. "Businesses are simply reluctant to put people on payrolls and are more willing to let them go. This week's increase was more disappointing than what we've seen in recent weeks."
Economists forecast claims would fall to 465,000, according to the median of 42 projections in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from 450,000 to 480,000. The government revised the prior week's claims figure up to 482,000 from a previously reported 479,000.
Import prices rose in July for the first time in three months, led by higher fuel costs, another Labor Department report showed. The 0.2 percent increase in the import-price index was smaller than projected and followed a 1.3 percent June drop. Prices excluding energy fell 0.3 percent.
No special factors influenced last week's data, a Labor Department spokesman said.