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US Job Market, Productivity Up, Retail Sales Falter

The number of Americans signing up for unemployment compensation declined slightly by 4,000 to hit 621,000 last week.

The Labor Department said the number of jobless people getting long-term help also declined for the first time in 20 weeks by 15,000 to a total of 6.7 million.

Some economists say those figures show an improving economy but a job market that is still troubled.

Another report showed U.S. workers grew more productive at a 1.6-percent annual pace in the first quarter. The gains came from companies cutting jobs and hours and apparently squeezing more work out of the remaining staff.

Worries about jobs are one factor prompting consumers to cut back spending. Retailers report sales dropped 4.6 percent in May from the same month a year earlier. Retail sales are a key engine moving the U.S. economy.

A more detailed picture of the U.S. employment situation will emerge Friday when government experts publish the unemployment rate for April, which is expected to be higher than the previous month.

Economists interviewed by news organizations predicted the U.S. jobless rate will rise three-tenths of a percent to hit 9.2 percent. They also said the U.S. economy will have a net loss of 530,000 jobs for the month.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.