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Economic Report: U.S unemployment claims rise to 6-month high of 235,000 in possible sign of rising layoffs

The numbers: Some 235,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week, marking the highest number in six months and possibly signaling that layoffs are on the rise as the U.S. economy slows.

New jobless claims rose by 4,000 from 231,000 in the prior week.

Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal forecast initial jobless claims to total 230,000 in the seven days ended July 2. The figures are seasonally adjusted.

New filings had fallen to as low as 166,000 in late March — the second fewest on record — before moving higher over the past several months.

The four-week average of new jobless claims, which smooths out the temporary ups and downs, rose to 232,500. That’s the highest level since January.

Big picture: Many companies are still adding jobs and layoffs are near a record low, but hiring appears to have tapered off as the economy slows. Some businesses have adopted a hiring freeze or are even reducing staff, especially in the tech sector.

Yet with unemployment very low at 3.6% and and the labor market extremely tight, companies are unlikely to make deep cuts in staff unless the economy slips into a recession and sales dry up. So far there’s little sign of that.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

and S&P 500

were set to open higher in Thursday trades.

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