America

Weekly Jobless Claims Drop; Mortgage Rates Edge Up

New claims for unemployment benefits fell to 326,000 in the week that ended July 27 — the lowest level for initial jobless claims in more than five years, according to the Labor Department.

Employment data for the month of July is due to be released Friday. But for now, the weekly jobless claims numbers are being hailed as another sign that the U.S. economy is gaining strength.

"This is good," Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi tells NPR's Newscast unit. "It's consistent with solid job growth — 200,000 jobs per month. You know, we need more because we have such a high rate of unemployment. But it's not too bad."

As we reported earlier, the employment data sent the S&P 500 index to a new height in early trading Thursday.

Separately, a new report finds average mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans increased slightly to 4.39 percent. The latest data from mortgage buyer Freddie Mac shows rates rose 0.7 percent for the week ending August 1. Last year at this time, rates for the same loans averaged 3.55 percent.

Fifteen-year rates also increased 0.7 percent, to an average of 3.43 percent. They, too, were lower a year ago: averaging 2.83 percent.

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