Economic Report: U.S. jobless claims inch higher in latest week

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The numbers: Slightly more Americans applied for state unemployment benefits in the week ended Sept. 19 than in the prior week. Jobless claims rose 4,000 to 870,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had been looking claims to decline to 850,000. Claims in the prior week were raised by 6,000 to 866,000.

What happened: The number of people already collecting economic benefits, known as continuing claims fell 167,000 to 12.58 million. These claims are reported with a one-week lag. This is the lowest level of continued claims since mid-April.

Big picture: Jobless claims have been drifting lower lately. Roughly half of the 22 million payroll jobs that were lost in March and April have been regained as people return to work. The prospects for this trend to continue are mixed and economists say high unemployment will remain a problem for at least a couple of years.

Market reaction: Stocks appeared to be set to open lower Thursday a day after equities suffered another round of steep losses that put the S&P 500 index SPX, -2.37%   on the brink of correction.

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