Applications for jobless benefits rose last week for the first time in three weeks, evidence that companies are still reluctant to hire in a slow economy.
The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment aid rose by 13,000, to a seasonally adjusted 462,000. It was only the second rise in two months.
Despite the ups and down, claims have been stuck near 450,000 all year. Few employers see much reason to create many jobs, and some are still laying off workers. Rail operator CSX Corp., for example, said Wednesday that it can lengthen its trains to handle rising shipments, reducing its need to hire more workers.
In addition, cash-strapped state and local governments are cutting jobs, adding to the ranks of those out of work.
The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure, rose by 2,250 to 459,000.
The initial claims figure, while volatile, is considered a real-time snapshot of the job market. It is also a measure of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire.
Claims have fallen significantly since June 2009, the month the recession ended. First-time claims topped 600,000 at the end of that month.
But most of the improvement took place last year. Since January, claims have fluctuated around 450,000.
Total unemployment benefit rolls, meanwhile, fell last week, most likely because many of those out of work are using up their benefits.
The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell by 112,000, to just under 4.4 million, the department said. But that doesn't include several million people who are receiving benefits under extended programs approved by Congress.
The number of people on extended benefits dropped by about 340,000, to about 4.8 million, in the week ending Sept. 25, the latest data available. All told, about 8.6 million people received unemployment aid that week.
Layoffs are continuing in some sectors. Sanofi-Aventis SA, the world's fourth-largest drug maker, said last week that it is eliminating 1,700 jobs in its U.S. pharmaceutical business due to growing generic competition.