During the recession, Congress added up to 73 extra weeks of benefits on top of the 26 weeks customarily provided by the states. The number of people on the extended rolls has increased sharply in recent weeks after Congress renewed the extended program last month. It had expired in June.
Private employers added only 71,000 jobs in July. But that increase was offset by the loss of 202,000 government jobs, including 143,000 temporary census positions.
July marked the third straight month that the private sector hired cautiously. Economists are concerned that the unemployment rate will start rising again because overall economic growth has weakened significantly since the start of the year.
In a healthy economy, jobless claims usually drop below 400,000. But the recent increases in claims provide further evidence that the economy has slowed and could slip back into a recession. Many analysts are worried that economic growth will ebb further in the second half of this year.
After growing at a 3.7% annual rate in the first quarter, the economy's growth slowed to 2.4 percent in the April-to-June period. Some economists forecast it will drop to as low as 1.5% in the second half of this year.
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