Jobless claims tick up to 365,000

Last week was the sixth straight week of declines and the lowest level since March 31, before the job market slowed considerably. 

Government officials have had a hard time adjusting the data for the yearly summer auto-plant shutdowns, which happened later and led to fewer layoffs. 

The report comes a day ahead of Friday's figures, which will show that employers added 100,000 to 125,000 jobs in July, above the 80,000 in June, and that the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.2 percent. 

While job growth eclipsed 200,000 a month in the winter, the labor market stalled through the spring and into the summer, averaging about 75,000.

Increasing concerns about the looming mix of spending cuts and tax increases set to hit at the end of the year as well as the European financial crisis have weighed on economic growth and made employers more reluctant to hire. 

The health of the labor market is a central theme in the presidential race between President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. 

A separate report on Thursday showed that planned layoffs declined for the second consecutive month in July, as employers announced job cuts totaling 36,855, down 2 percent from June, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement consultant.

Job cuts last month were down 45 percent from a year ago, and this is just the third time this year employers announced fewer cuts than the same month in 2011.

Overall, employers have announced 319,946 job cuts so far this year, slightly higher than the pace last year.