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Jobless Claims Show Modest Labor Market Improvement

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The number of Americans filing for first-time jobless benefits shrank last week, an improvement thanks in part to stabilization in the labor market but also in how the Labor Department reports the numbers.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 881,000 Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits for the week ended Aug. 22, down from a revised 1.006 million claims the week earlier. Economists polled by FactSet had been expecting claims of 965,000.

Continuing claims, which are the number of people not just filing but staying on unemployment benefits, came in at 13.254 million for the week ended Aug. 15, revised downward from 14.492 the previous week, the Labor Department said.

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, economists and market-watchers have been keeping an eagle eye on weekly jobless claims figures for signs of how the unprecedented economic shutdown and subsequent reopening have impacted the labor market.

At the same time, the Labor Department’s weekly tally of jobless claims haven’t been reported on a seasonally adjusted basis - until now.

Thursday’s report marks the first time the Department of Labor has counted new and continuing jobless claims under an updated system that now smooths out the bigger week-to-week gyrations in the numbers.

For a clearer snapshot, market-watchers will be paying close attention to August’s nonfarm payroll report, to be released by the Labor Department on Friday. Analysts polled by FactSet are expecting some 1.5 million jobs to have been created last month following June's 1.8 million gain.

The unemployment rate is expected to dip to 9.8% from 10.2% in July. 

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