WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- The number of Americans initially applying for unemployment aid last week jumped to the highest level in two months, providing a dim outlook for the U.S. job market, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits was 382,000 in the week ending Sept. 8, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week's revised figure. The department said the sudden increase was partly due to the impact of Hurricane Isaac, which disrupted work in nine states and boosted applications by 9,000.
Meanwhile, the four-week moving average, which helps smooth out week-to-week volatility, increased for the fourth consecutive week to 375,000, also the highest in almost two months.
It is generally believed the number of jobless claims needs to remain below 375,000, a benchmark that indicates a potential sustained drop in the unemployment rate.
Hiring is cooling recently. In August, employers only added 96,000 jobs, far less than an average of over 220,000 in the first three months of this year, and also lower than July's 141,000 new jobs.
The advance figure for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending Sept. 1 was 3.283 million, down 49,000 from the prior week.
The unemployment rate in August unexpectedly edged down to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, as more Americans left the labor force. It has been above 8 percent since February 2009. In addition, the U.S. economy only expanded at an annual rate of 1.5 percent in the second quarter of this year, down from 2 percent in the first quarter.
The persistent unemployment is a grave concern in the eyes of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and is likely to be a focus for policy makers as they meet Thursday to consider whether new monetary easing steps are needed to boost the economy.