WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy is showing signs of emerging from the longest recession in recent memory, but the process is likely to be slow, judging by the results of several key economic reports released Thursday. Spending and manufacturing data indicated growth, though small, while persistent unemployment and stagnant income continue to have economists worried that growth could falter in the coming months. Here is a summary:
JOBLESS CLAIMS: First-time claims for jobless benefits increased to 551,000 from 534,000 in the previous week, a sign that employers are reluctant to hire and the job market remains weak. Wall Street economists had expected an increase to 535,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. The number of people remaining on the rolls, meanwhile, fell 70,000 to 6.09 million, the lowest level since the week of April 4.
MANUFACTURING: The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said Thursday that its index measuring the industrial sector read 52.6 in September. That slightly trailed the August figure of 52.9 — the first time it was above 50, indicating expansion, since January 2008. While showing growth, analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a stronger reading of 54.
CONSUMER SPENDING: Personal spending, propelled by the wildly popular Cash for Clunkers auto sales program, shot up in August by 1.3 percent, the largest amount in nearly eight years. The August increase followed a 0.3 percent rise in July. On the flip side, incomes, the fuel for future spending gains, continued to lag, edging up 0.2 percent in August, the same as the July increase.
CONSTRUCTION SPENDING: Construction spending rose 0.8 percent in August, much better than the 0.2 percent drop that economists had expected. It reflected a 4.7 percent rise in private residential activity, the biggest one-month increase since November 1993. But spending on nonresidential construction projects dropped 0.1 percent in August, the fourth consecutive decline.