updated 8/3/2006 8:47:47 AM ET 2006-08-03T12:47:47

The number of new people signing up for unemployment benefits climbed last week but still pointed to decent conditions in the nation’s job market.

Major Market Indices

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance rose by a seasonally adjusted 14,000 to 315,000 for the week ending July 29.

Although last week’s level of claims — 315,000 — was the highest since early July, it still suggested that the job market remains stable even as job growth has slowed in recent months. A year ago, new claims stood at 318,000.

Before the release of the report, economists were forecasting claims to clock in around 308,000.

The more stable four-week moving average of new jobless claims, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, last week was 313,750, representing a small increase of 250 from the prior week. A year ago the moving average stood at 319,500.

The report also showed that the number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits rose by 11,000 to 2.480 million for the week ending July 22, the most recent period for which that information is available. Looking over the past year, though, improvement can be seen. The level of continuing claims last year was higher at 2.597 million.

Economists, meanwhile, are predicting that job growth perked up in July. They are forecasting a gain of around 145,000 new jobs, up from a disappointing 121,000 added in June. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 4.6 percent. The government releases July’s employment report on Friday.

Although overall economic growth has moderated, inflation has moved higher.

The Federal Reserve meets next week to examine interest rate policy and economists are divided over the outcome. Some believe the Fed will take its first break after tightening credit for more than two years and leave rates alone. Others, however, predict another bump up will be needed to keep inflation from taking off.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress last month that he and his colleagues are concerned about rising prices for energy and other things but are hopeful that slower economic activity will eventually lessen inflation pressures.

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