WASHINGTON (AP) - The sluggish job market is weighing on the U.S. economy three years after the recession was declared at an end. And the signs suggest hiring may not strengthen any time soon.
A measure of the number of people applying for unemployment benefits over the past month has reached a six-month high, the government said Thursday. The increase suggests that layoffs are rising and June will be another tepid month for hiring.
Sales of previously occupied homes fell in May. And manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region contracted for the second straight month in June.
Tony Phan, 48, uses a trash can to fill out an application at a job fair expo in Anaheim, Calif.
The gloomy economic data echoed a more pessimistic outlook from the Federal Reserve issued Wednesday.
The reports also contributed to a sharp decline in stock prices. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 251 points to close at 12,574. The Standard & Poor's 500 index and the Nasdaq composite both ended the day down more than 2 percent.
"It appears the slow-growth expansion will be slower," said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities, in a note to clients.
Thursday's raft of economic reports showed:
To try to boost growth and hiring, the Fed said it would extend a program intended to drive down long-term U.S. interest rates. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hopes that will encourage borrowing and spending.
Some economists warned that the weaker job market may have started to affect home sales, which until recently had been showing modest improvement.