Unemployment Claims Highest In 5 Weeks, Rise To 372,000

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UnemploymentBy Jason Lange

WASHINGTON, Aug 23 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, suggesting the labor market is healing too slowly to make much of a dent in the unemployment rate.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the highest level in five weeks. The data keeps pressure on President Barack Obama ahead of his November re-election bid. His Republican challenger is trying to focus voters' attention on a lofty unemployment rate that has dogged Obama's presidency.

Many economists think the Federal Reserve could unveil a new bond buying program to prop up economic growth as soon as its next meeting Sept 12-13, although an improvement in hiring this month could make that less likely.

The report on jobless claims did have a silver lining, however.

The data covers the same week looked at by the government for its monthly measure of employment, and showed a slight drop in layoffs from the survey week last month, which is a mildly positive signal for hiring in August.

Unemployment Claims Highest In 5 Weeks, Rise To 372,000

Rated No. 1 overall for offering its employees the best work-life balance, MITRE is a non-profit company specializing in systems engineering, information technology, operational concepts, and enterprise modernization. Its employees have raved that, "Work-life balance is very real and everyone is encouraged to take time off and keep their work hours under control." And, "MITRE walks the talk in work life balance. We work with smart respectful colleagues. We have flex hours and good benefits." In the career section of the company website[S1] , it notes, front and center, that, “MITRE also provides flexibility in the workplace by offering benefit programs like the Flexible Work Arrangement Program and Paid Time Off Bank. These programs help employees navigate successfully between their responsibilities to home life and their professional responsibilities at work.”

Rated No. 4 overall for offering its employees the best work-life balance, SAS is a business software specialist, and is one of nine companies making the list for two years in a row. On its website[S2] , the company notes that, “SAS has created an environment that fosters and encourages the integration of the company's business objectives with employees' personal needs.” Its employees have commented, “"SAS offers countless benefits (not just health insurance) like aquatic center, onsite childcare, subsidized meals at the onsite cafes, gym, and list goes on and on and on." And, "SAS is very thoughtful in looking at ways to improve your work/life experience."

Rated No. 8 overall for offering its employees the best work-life balance, social network LinkedIn (LNKD) is in the business of connecting professionals with each other and employers with prospective employees. The company tends to workers’ minds and bodies with benefits [S3] such as educational and inspirational speakers, yoga, and “plenty of organic fruit.” A recruiter at the company has said, “I love the workout sessions and work-life balance that is encouraged.”

Rated No. 9 overall for offering its employees the best work-life balance, FactSet Research Systems (FDS) provides financial data to the investment industry. Its website’s career nook explains [S4] that, "Our company's culture attracts and nurtures employees who want to help out and kick back." Employees have commented: "Excellent benefits and extremely flexible scheduling (i.e., if you need to work at home, take time for a medical appointment). Length of work week is extremely reasonable (40-45 hrs. per week typically)."  "Work-life balance is the best in the industry."

Rated No. 12 overall for offering its employees the best work-life balance, Orbitz (OWW) is a travel specialist with a page [S5] on its website entirely dedicated to its work-life balance commitment, noting that, “We work on the leading edge. But we also find time to connect with each other,” and listing a host of employee interest groups centered, for example, around biking, parenting, martial arts, Nintendo gaming, and gay-lesbian-bi-transgender issues. Employees have praised it saying, "Very open on flexible working -- as I have a young family, that counts for a lot." And "Work from home perks are really nice, where managers are supportive and open to work from home."

Rated No. 22 overall for offering its employees the best work-life balance, the company once headed [S6] by Mitt Romney is a key player in the management consulting business, known for generous compensation but also very demanding hours. One worker noted that, "Work-life balance -- obviously consulting stinks but at least Bain tried (weekly health checks, meetings on how to make life better)." Bain offers [S7] part-time and job-sharing options, and even sabbaticals and leaves.

Facebook (FB) is notable for being one of the companies that dropped off the list in 2012. It held the No. 7 spot in 2011. Facebook maintained a high score, though, and would likely make a list of top 50 companies. At Glassdoor.com, an employee in 2010 summarized [S8] a bunch of benefits of working there: "Never go hungry, always have clean clothes, … management focused on employee satisfaction, … flexibility in work hours." With the company now public, many employees are likely far richer than they were in 2010, too.

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The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labor market trends, was 368,000 last week. That was a slight increase from the prior week, but still 2.1 percent lower than in the second week of July.

That week, the government surveyed employers and concluded 163,000 new jobs were created in July - an improvement from the prior three months though the unemployment rate still ticked higher to 8.3 percent.

The government will release its employment report for August on Sept. 7, and policymakers at the Federal Reserve will scrutinize the data for signs the economy is improving.

Minutes from the Fed's July 31-Aug. 1 policy review, released on Wednesday, showed the central bank is likely to deliver another round of monetary stimulus "fairly soon" unless the economy improves considerably.

Claims data, which swung wildly in July due to shifts in seasonal auto plant shutdowns, are now giving a clearer picture of the labor market's health.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data. The prior week's figure for initial claims was revised higher to 368,000 from the previously reported 366,000.

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The U.S. economy faces a number of threats, including the looming possibility the government will raise taxes and cut spending. That is already hurting business sentiment.

Europe's festering debt crisis also menaces the global economy. Business surveys released on Thursday painted a global picture of economic malaise from Beijing to Berlin.

The euro zone economy will shrink around 0.5 percent in the current quarter, with weakness even spreading through Germany, the region's largest and strongest economy, Markit's Purchasing Mangers' Index suggested.

Also worrisome for global growth, the HSBC Flash China manufacturing PMI fell to 47.8 for August, its lowest level since November and well down from July's final figure of 49.3.

In the United States, the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 4,000 to 3.317 million in the week ended Aug. 11, the claims report showed.

A total of 5.59 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits under all programs in the week ended Aug. 4, down 109,812 from the prior week.

Many economists think the Federal Reserve could unveil a new bond buying program to prop up economic growth as soon as its next meeting Sept 12-13, although an improvement in hiring this month could make that less likely.

The report on jobless claims did have a silver lining, however.

The data covers the same week looked at by the government for its monthly measure of employment, and showed a slight drop in layoffs from the survey week last month, which is a mildly positive signal for hiring in August.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labor market trends, was 368,000 last week. That was a slight increase from the prior week, but still 2.1 percent lower than in the second week of July.
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