updated 8/18/2005 8:51:07 AM ET 2005-08-18T12:51:07

The number of newly laid off Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week but still remained at levels indicating a strong labor market.

Major Market Indices

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits totaled 316,000 last week, a gain of 6,000 from the previous week.

That increase was above the 2,000-person rise that economists had expected, but the level of laid-off workers remained well within the range that signals the labor market is continuing to improve.

Employers created 207,000 new jobs last month, the best showing in three months, helping to keep the unemployment rate at a low level of 5 percent.

So far this year, a strong economy has generated an average of 191,000 new jobs per month, better than last year’s average of 183,000.

Forecasters believe that labor market strength will continue for the rest of the year as long as soaring energy costs don’t jolt business and consumer confidence and cause cutbacks in spending.

The government reported earlier this week that prices paid by both consumers and wholesalers shot up in July, reflecting the surge in world oil prices, which hit record highs above $67 per barrel earlier this month. Those increases have sent gasoline prices soaring with the nationwide average hitting $2.55 per gallon in the most recent Energy Department survey.

The increase in jobless claims to 316,000 last week pushed unemployment applications to the highest level in five weeks, when claims surged to 337,000, reflecting higher layoffs in the auto industry.

But analysts said claims readings below 350,000 reflect a healthy economy that is generating enough jobs to support an expanding labor market.

The four-week moving average for jobless claims edged up slightly to 312,750 last week, compared to 310,000 the previous week.

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