WASHINGTON - New data Thursday paint a mixed picture of the U.S. economy.
A report on the job market shows a slight increase in the number of people signing up for unemployment assistance last week. But the data also show that the number of people laid off remains at a low level consistent with a strong job market, where it has been for well over two years.
Economists say strong employment data will encourage the U.S. central bank to raise interest rates at its next meeting in June. The U.S. unemployment rate will be updated late next week.
A separate report shows the United States buys more merchandise abroad than it sells to foreigners. April's trade gap was the second-worst in two years.
The trade data could mean slower economic growth. Friday, experts will publish an update to the U.S. GDP for the first few months of this year. A survey of economists shows they expect it to decline slightly from the disappointing seven-tenths of a percent annual rate reported earlier.