Dow Jones

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly in the first week of September, but government figures still suggest the domestic labor market is softening.

Matching Wall Street expectations, initial claims for jobless benefits dropped 3,000 to 316,000 in the week ended Sept. 2, the Labor Department said Thursday. But the weekly decrease pushed the four-week moving average of claims up to its highest level since January 1999 - 317,500.

Though typically volatile, the jobless claims data provide further evidence that the U.S. economy may be cooling. Last week, the Labor Department said businesses trimmed their payrolls by 105,000 in August, while the unemployment rate rose to 4.1%.

As a result, financial markets are betting against another interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve this year.

In all, 31 states and territories reported a decrease in claims for the week of Aug. 26, while 21 reported an increase and one reported no change.

In North Carolina, claims fell by 8,333 in the Aug. 26 week due to fewer layoffs in the transportation equipment industry. Massachusetts reported 3,701 fewer claims as a result of the resolution of the strike at Verizon Communications Inc. Georgia reported a decline of 1,607 claims due to a drop in layoffs in the textile industry.

Ohio was the only state to report an increase of more than 1,000 claims in the Aug. 26 week. Claims there rose by 2,175 due to layoffs in various industries.

Continuing claims for the week of Aug. 26 rose 40,000 to 2,204,000, the government said.

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