Economic growth doubles 1st qtr. rate; unemployment appllications fall

FILE - In this June 13, 2012, file photo, a job seeker talks to a recruiter at a job fair expo in Anaheim, Calif.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

FILE - In this June 13, 2012, file photo, a job seeker talks to a recruiter at a job fair expo in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits remained near the lowest level in more than five years last week, a sign that companies are cutting few jobs.

Also, the U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate from April through June, much faster than previously estimated. The steep revision was largely because U.S. companies exported more goods and imports declined.

The Commerce Department said second-quarter growth was sharply higher than the initial 1.7 percent rate it reported last month. And the growth this spring was more than double the 1.1 percent rate from January through March.

The improvement in the trade deficit helped offset a weaker government spending.

Economists expect growth will stay at the 2.5 percent rate in the second half of the year, helped by steady job gains and less drag from federal spending cuts. But some worry that increases in interest rates could slow the economy's momentum

The Labor Department says weekly applications for benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000. The four week average, a less volatile measure, inched up 750 to 331,250 after reaching a 5 1/2-year low the previous week.

Applications for unemployment benefits reflect layoffs. At the depths of the recession in March 2009, they numbered 670,000. The average has fallen 10 percent this year.

Though employers are cutting few jobs, most have yet to start hiring aggressively.

Employers have added an average of 192,000 jobs a month since January. That's enough to gradually lower the unemployment rate, which fell to 7.4 percent in July.


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