Economists Await Unemployment Data

THE number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits was unchanged last week, the Labor Department said yesterday. They had fallen by 10,000, from 356,000, during the week ending April 24.

Today the department releases data on April employment. A consensus of economists called for the unemployment rate to remain at 7 percent for the third month, though it predicted that nonfarm payrolls would grow by 150,000.

A Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday says the economy may not be doing as badly as some of the indicators suggest. "Reports ... indicate generally modest improvement in economic conditions across much of the nation," according to interviews by the Fed's 12 regional banks.

The survey found that economic activity had foundered in winter weather but bounced back as spring arrived. Retail sales and manufacturing were up. "Shopper traffic and retail sales were reported to have rebounded modestly in April, following general declines in March," the Beige Book survey said. It also found little enthusiasm about employment prospects. "Job conditions are mixed in most regions," it said. "Some firms are hiring modestly.... However, no district anticipates a flurry of new hiring."

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