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Jobless Claims Edged Up Last Week

There were 401,000 first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week, up from 395,000 the week before, the Employment and Training Administration just reported.

According to Reuters the gain was "less than expected." Economists polled by the wire service had been anticipating the agency would say there had been 410,000 claims.

One way to make sense of the numbers, of course, is to look at the longer-term trend. Weekly claims peaked at 659,000 in March 2009 — when the economy was technically still in recession. They gradually slid to a low of 375,000 in February of this year. But since then they've generally stayed above the 400,000-mark — a level that economists say is another sign of an ailing labor market that isn't producing enough jobs to bring down the nation's unemployment rate.

We'll learn much more about the labor market's health Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues its report on the September unemployment rate and the jobs. In August, according to the agency's preliminary report, the jobless rate was 9.1 percent and there was no net gain in payroll employment.

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