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Applications for jobless benefits rise to 462K nationwide

WASHINGTON – 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.

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.

“The labor market is kind of frozen right now,” said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities. “There’s not a lot of hiring going on, not a lot of quitting, not a lot of layoffs.”

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 data illustrate a weak economy that is slowly recuperating more than a year after the recession officially ended. Businesses are unable to raise prices because of high unemployment that is not expected to ease for months, perhaps years.

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 – the first increase after six consecutive declines.

Claims have fallen significantly since June 2009, the month the recession ended. First-time claims topped 600,000 at the end of that month.

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