A job fair for veterans this month in Addison, Ill. (Tim Boyle, Bloomberg )
WASHINGTON — September is looking as if it's going be another sluggish month of job growth.
New claims for jobless benefits remained relatively high last week, confounding analysts' expectations for a sizable drop after a spike in filings the previous week because of Hurricane Isaac.
The Labor Department said Thursday that 382,000 new applications for unemployment benefits were filed last week. That was down just 3,000 from the week that ended Sept. 8 and left the less-volatile, four-week moving average at about 378,000 — compared with 368,000 a month earlier.
The jobless claims data, an indicator of layoff trends, suggest the labor market is essentially moving sideways. And that's not a good sign given that the economy added just 96,000 jobs in August and that same number on average over the last six months.
Most experts reckon that at least 100,000 new jobs are needed every month just to keep up with population growth, never mind the much greater growth required to make a dent in the 8.1% unemployment rate.
After Thursday's weak jobless-claims numbers, analyst Michael Gapen said he and his colleagues at Barclays Bank were forecasting an increase of 100,000 jobs for September.
Other economists are looking for somewhat stronger growth, but complicating the picture is the Chicago teachers union strike, which could reduce this month's employment tally as much as 30,000.
Apart from that, other reports provide a mixed picture of layoffs. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics survey on job openings and turnover shows that the discharge rate is at the same all-time low that prevailed in 2005 and 2006, said Marisa Di Natale at Moody's Analytics.
Even so, there are also indications of increasing layoffs at manufacturing and trade-related firms, partly the result of a new recession in some European countries. Mass layoffs, those involving at least 50 workers, at factories jumped in July to their highest numbers in nearly a year.
Looking further ahead, big companies such as American Airlines parent AMR Corp. and Bank of America Corp. are planning to cut thousands of jobs by year's end.
And many businesses, large and small, seem to be holding off on major hiring decisions until they see how Washington deals with the so-called fiscal cliff — the expiration of certain tax cuts and mandatory federal spending reductions that would take place Jan. 1 unless Congress takes action.