The number of people seeking unemployment benefits in the US rose last week, though the data was likely skewed higher by seasonal factors.

Weekly applications increased by 8000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the sixth straight week to 365,500, the lowest since March 31.

The decline in the four-week average suggests the job market could be improving a bit. But economists are viewing last month's figures with some caution because the government struggles every July to account for temporary summer shutdowns in the vehicle manufacturing industry.

This year was even more complicated because some vehicle manufacturers skipped shutdowns, resulting in fewer layoffs.

A Labor Department spokesman said the latest figures should be the last affected by the auto shutdown issues.

Weekly applications are a measure of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it suggests hiring is strong enough to pull the unemployment rate down.

The seasonal distortions could affect the July employment report, which the Labor Department will release on Friday.

Economists predict employers added 100,000 jobs last month. That would be slightly better than the 75,000 a month average from April to the end of June but still below the healthy 226,000 average in the first three months of the year. The unemployment rate is expected to stay at 8.2 per cent.

The West Australian

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