NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Jobless claims rose last week, the government said Thursday, bouncing back to near the 400,000 level that many economists believe is a benchmark for labor-market weakness.
The Labor Department report said 399,000 people filed for benefits in the week ended Sept. 27, compared with a revised reading of 386,000 in the prior week. Economists, on average, expected 395,000 new claims, according to Briefing.com.
In the week ended Sept. 20, the Labor Department said, jobless claims had been pushed lower by Hurricane Isabel, which shut down government offices in Washington, D.C., and other areas of the mid-Atlantic coast. Many economists expected a bounce-back in the latest week.
Many economists view 400,000 jobless claims as the sign of a soft job market. Claims were above 400,000 from mid-February to mid-July, 22 straight weeks. Claims dropped in late August to the lowest level since early February, though the data in July and August were skewed somewhat by summer factory shutdowns. Claims returned above 400,000 per week in the first three weeks of September.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which irons out the volatility of the weekly data, fell in the latest week to 403,500 from a revised 408,500 the prior week.
Continued claims, the number of people out of work for a week or more, rose to 3.67 million for the week ended Sept. 20, the latest data available, from a revised 3.61 million the prior week.
The Labor Department is scheduled to report Friday the data for unemployment and non-farm payrolls in September. Economists, on average, expect unemployment to rise to 6.2 percent and for payrolls to shed 25,000 jobs.
Though the economy's growth has clearly accelerated in the late summer and fall, the long-suffering labor market has shown few signs of recovery. In fact, even though the latest recession ended in November 2001, job growth has yet to begin, the longest such slump since World War II.
Many economists now believe the labor market's problems are structural rather than cyclical, that technology-driven gains in productivity have enabled manufacturers and other businesses to produce more with fewer workers.