blue puzzle piecesApplications for unemployment benefits rose more than forecast last week, following a steady decline to pre-recession lows.

Jobless claims climbed by 21,000 to 311,000 in the period ended Aug. 9, the highest in six weeks, a Labor Department report has recently shown. The jump represents a shift from a run of low readings that showed employers had been holding firm on staffing levels in order to keep up with demand.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, increased to 295,750 from 293,750 in the prior week that was the lowest since 2006. Last week’s average is still well below the 318,700 mean so far this year. The cost of goods imported into the U.S. dropped 0.2 percent in July, the first decrease in three months, after rising 0.1 percent in June. The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 25,000 to 2.54 million in the week ended Aug. 2. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.9 percent during that period.

Employers added more than 200,000 workers to payrolls in July for a sixth straight month; the first time this has taken place since 1997. Employment rose by 209,000 after a 298,000 increase in June, and the jobless rate rose to 6.2 percent from an almost six-year low of 6.1 percent as more Americans entered the labor force.

Job openings rose in June to the highest level in more than 13 years, the Labor Department reported earlier this week. While firings will probably stabilize near current levels, hopes of getting a job quickly may keep the recently unemployed from filing applications for benefits.

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