Unemployment benefits claims rise by 18,000

Economists say the market is in good shape when applications are below 375,000, where they have been for most of this year. 

Overall hiring has remained steady even if it hasn't made much of a dent in the 7.6 percent unemployment rate. 

Employers added 175,000 jobs in May, the government reported last week, and the jobless rate rose because more workers jumped back into the labor force to find a job. 

Economists are expecting employers to slow hiring through the summer as $80 billion in spending cuts run through the system. 

Yet despite the predicted drag from the sequester and the tax increases that hit Jan. 1, consumers and some sectors of the economy, such as the housing market, are holding steady and are weathering the headwinds. 

Consumer sentiment reached its highest level in five years last week, according to a Bloomberg index released on Thursday. 

The index increased to minus 29.4 in the period that ended June 16 from minus 31.3 a week earlier.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke clarified the central bank's stance on its aggressive bond-buying program, suggesting on Wednesday that purchases could slow later this year and end by mid-2014 if the economy, and the job market, continues to strengthen.