First-time claims for jobless benefits tick up

Applications have popped above the 375,000 level economists say reflects a healthy job market and likely means the unemployment rate will fall. 

The economy produced a dismal 69,000 jobs in May, the lowest in a year, as the jobless rate increased to 8.2 percent from 8.1. 

Economists are forecasting stronger job growth this summer but, if the weekly claims are a barometer for growth, hiring is still sluggish. 

Job growth eclipsed, on average, 250,000 a month during the winter before stalling out through the spring. Economists argue that the labor market produced jobs at a faster rate than economic growth and, thus, the past three months have essentially seen a payback for the warm winter hiring. 

Those still collecting state-level benefits dropped to 3.27 million, a decrease of 33,000 for the week ended June 2. 

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs was 5.82 million, a decrease of 145,990 for the week ended May 26. 

And workers who have used up their state-level benefits of up to 26 weeks and are getting federal benefits dropped by 135,148 to 2.69 million for the week ended May 26.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Capitol Hill last week that job gains over the warm winter likely reflected businesses hiring earlier than normal and, possibly, trying to make up for cutting too many jobs during the economic downturn. 

Consumers reined in spending in April and May; the latest figures out Wednesday show that the main reason for the decrease is the steadily dropping cost at the gas pump, which could, in the next several months, provide the extra cash needed to bolster spending. 

A separate report on Thursday showed that consumer prices also fell by the most since December 2008, again because of dropping gas prices. 

Those factors could play a role in the coming months in boosting consumer spending, which represents 70 percent of economic activity.