WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans likely sought unemployment benefits last week, though the increase could stem mostly from the impact of Superstorm Sandy.
Economists forecast that weekly applications rose 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, according to a survey by FactSet. The Labor Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. EST Thursday.
Many economists expect the report to be distorted by the storm, which disrupted business activity from North Carolina to Maine.
The storm could push applications higher if more people were temporarily out of work and sought benefits. But some economists forecast claims could fall if the storm prevented many of the unemployed from filing benefits.
Weekly applications have fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 since January. At the same time, employers have added an average of nearly 157,000 jobs a month. That's enough to only lower the unemployment rate slowly. It has declined to 7.9 percent from 8.3 percent this year.
Still, there are some signs that the job market is improving. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October and hiring in August and September was much stronger than first estimated, the department said last week. The economy has gained an average of 173,000 jobs a month since July. That's up from 67,000 a month in April through June.
The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in October from 7.8 percent in the previous month. But that is because more Americans began looking for work, possibly because they felt their chances had improved. Not all of them found jobs, which pushed up the unemployment rate.
Employers posted fewer available jobs in September than in August, according to a separate report from the Labor Department on Tuesday. That happened after job openings were revised higher in August. Employers filled fewer openings, the report showed, but layoffs also fell.
The economy picked up slightly this summer after a sluggish spring. Growth rose to a 2 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, up from 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter. Consumers and the federal government spent more, and the housing market contributed to growth for the sixth straight quarter.
Most economists expect growth will remain sluggish through early next year. Many hope the economy will accelerate if the White House and Congress avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," the package of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect early next year. If the cliff isn't avoided, it could push the U.S. economy back into recession.