First-time jobless claims increased by 4,000 to 319,000 last week, coming in less than the projected 325,000. It appears that the slowdown in the job market has not necessarily accelerated layoffs. However, the average number of people collecting jobless benefits in the four weeks ending September 1st increased to 2.579 million, the most since January 2006. This shows that people are actually taking longer to find jobs. Weakness in housing and the tight credit markets have caused massive layoffs in the last few weeks and put off any hiring plans. Last Friday, Countrywide announced it might lay off 12,000 employees to cut costs (full story). These job readings have had a greater significance recently than normal because the data only lags a week, which allows it to capture the credit problems that hit the market in early August and how the market is handing them. This qualifies it as one of those "timeliest indicators" that Fed Chairman Bernanke and other fed presidents have noted that they will pay close attention to in preparation for the September 18th fed meeting.
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