Washington (AP) - More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the first rise in three weeks and evidence that companies are reluctant to hire in a slow economy.
Initial claims for unemployment aid rose by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 462,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was only the second rise in two months.
A separate report from the Commerce Department showed the trade deficit widened in August by 8.8 percent to $46.3 billion. The gap grew because of a 2.1 jump in imports, driven by demand for foreign-made semiconductors, generators and other types of industrial machinery Exports edged up a slight 0.2 percent.
A third report noted that prices at the wholesale level remained tame outside a sharp rise in food and energy costs. Excluding those two volatile categories, core wholesale prices rose just 0.1 percent, the Labor Department said.
The small increase illustrates that the weak economy is keeping a lid on prices.
Jobless claims have been stuck near 450,000 all year. Few employers see much reason to create many jobs, and some are still laying off workers. Rail operator CSX Corp., for example, said Wednesday that it can lengthen its trains to handle rising shipments, reducing its need to hire more employees.
Cash-strapped state and local governments are cutting jobs, adding to the ranks of those out of work and likely adding to the initial claims for unemployment aid.
State and local governments shed 83,000 jobs in September, the department said last week. The economy lost a net total of 95,000 jobs overall and the unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.6 percent.
Local governments cut the most jobs in 28 years last month, most of them teachers and other school employees.
The initial claims figure, while volatile, is considered a real-time snapshot of the job market. It is also a measure of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire. The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure, rose by 2,250 to 459,000.
Claims have fallen significantly since June 2009, the month the recession ended. First-time claims topped 600,000 at the end of that month.
But most of the improvement took place last year. Since January, claims have fluctuated around 450,000.
Total unemployment benefit rolls, meanwhile, fell last week, most likely because many of those out of work are using up their benefits.
The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell by 112,000 to just under 4.4 million, the department said. But that doesn't include several million people who are receiving benefits under extended programs approved by Congress.
The number of people on extended benefits dropped by about 340,000 to about 4.8 million in the week ending Sept. 25, the latest data available. All told, about 8.6 million people received unemployment aid that week.
Layoffs are continuing in some sectors. Sanofi-Aventis SA, the world's fourth-largest drug maker, said last week that it is eliminating 1,700 jobs in its U.S. pharmaceutical business due to growing generic competition.