WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits remained near the lowest level in more than five years last week, a sign that companies are cutting few jobs.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000. The four week average, a less volatile measure, inched up 750 to 331,250 after reaching a 5 1/2-year low the previous week.
Applications for unemployment benefits reflect layoffs. At the depths of the recession in March 2009, they numbered 670,000. The average has fallen 10 percent this year.
Though employers are cutting few jobs, most have yet to start hiring aggressively. Fewer layoffs can increase net job gains, even if hiring doesn't change.
Employers have added an average of 192,000 jobs a month since January. That's enough to gradually lower the unemployment rate, which fell to 7.4 percent in July.
The economy is growing at a weak pace that may not be enough to spur much hiring. It expanded at a 2.5 percent annual rate from April to June, the government said Thursday.
Growth may not be picking up much in the current July-September quarter. Manufacturing and housing, two key sectors, have shown signs of weakness. Rising interest rates may be slowing the housing recovery. That could lead to fewer construction jobs. New-home sales plummeted in July to their lowest level in nine months.
And a measure of pending home sales fell in July, suggesting that final sales could slow in the coming months.