The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, a level consistent with only modest hiring.
The Labor Department said Thursday that applications increased last week by 4,000 from the previous week’s level of 363,000. The previous week was revised higher from an initial reading of 359,000.
The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, was unchanged last week at 375,000.
Unemployment-benefit applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Applications mostly have stayed near or above that level since the spring, coinciding with a weak stretch of hiring. The government reports today on September hiring and unemployment.
There are only two jobs reports left before Election Day, so the September figures could have a major impact on the presidential campaign. The report comes just two days after President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney engaged in a debate focused largely on the economy and job growth — the top issues on most voters’ minds this year.
The economy has added an average of 87,400 jobs a month since April, down from an average of 226,000 jobs a month in the January-March quarter.
Economists predict employers added 111,000 jobs last month, slightly more than the 96,000 jobs added in August.