Jobless claims tick up by 7,000 last week

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

July jobs figures are due out in a little more than a week and should provide more evidence as to how tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts have affected not only the job market, but the broader economy. 

Economic growth has remained sluggish — 1.8 percent — and economists are expecting a poorer showing through the April-June quarter because of those fiscal policies. 

But another solid month of jobs growth could provide the impetus needed for the Federal Reserve to taper its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. 

Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that the central bank is committed to sticking with its massive stimulus plan until the economy gains enough strength to fly solo. 

Those purchases could slow starting in September — economists are leaning that direction — and could end by this time next year if the economy can finally get back on track with more sustainable growth. 

Still, there is no doubting that the economy has hurdles to scale before picking up pace later this year. 

Although employers are adding more than 200,000 jobs a month on average, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly stuck above 7.5 percent. 

Payrolls increased by 195,000 in June, and the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, down from 8.2 percent a year earlier.