New applications for unemployment insurance reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November, a sign that employers are likely cutting jobs again as the economy slows. The Labor Department said today that initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 last week to 500,000, the fourth increase in the past five weeks. Wall Street economists forecast that claims would drop.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose by 8,000 to 482,500, the highest since December. There were no special factors that distorted the numbers, a Labor Department analyst said. The increase suggests the economy is creating even fewer jobs than in the first half of this year, when private employers added an average of about 100,000 jobs per month—barely enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising. (Read more unemployment stories.)