WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week. The report will be released Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.
SLIGHT INCREASE: Economists forecast that applications rose 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be up from 316,000 the previous week. But for the most part, the number of Americans seeking benefits has returned to pre-recession levels.
FEWER LAYOFFS: Weekly unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. Applications have fallen in six of the past seven weeks, a sign that layoffs have slowed. The less volatile four-week average for applications was 331,750 two weeks ago.
SOLID JOB GAINS: The decline in layoffs should help boost job gains at a time when hiring has accelerated. The economy has added an average of 202,000 jobs a month from August through October, up from an average of 146,000 in May through July.
And report Wednesday from payroll processor ADP suggests those gains continued last month.
ADP on Wednesday said that companies and small businesses added 215,000 jobs in November.
The pace of hiring has quickened as the end of the year approaches. Greater employment typically boosts income, which helps drive more economic growth. Consumers' spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity.
Still, the unemployment rate remains high at 7.3 percent. That's well above the 5 percent to 6 percent unemployment rate consistent with healthier job markets. When unemployment is lower, workers have more flexibility to change jobs.
Job growth is a major factor for the Federal Reserve in deciding when to reduce its economic stimulus. The Fed has been buying $85 billion in bonds each month to keep long-term interest rates low and encourage borrowing and spending.
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