Nearly 3.9 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Oct. 12, the latest data available. That's about 40,000 more than the previous week. But a year ago, more than 5 million people were receiving unemployment aid.
Hiring likely weakened even further in October because of the shutdown, which ended on Oct. 16. In addition to government contractors, other companies also likely cut jobs, such as restaurants and hotels located near national parks, which were closed. Some economists are forecasting that job gains in October could be 100,000 or less.
Payroll provider ADP said Wednesday that businesses added just 130,000 jobs in October. That's down from ADP's estimate of 145,000 private-sector jobs added in September.
The government will release its October employment report on Nov. 8. The report was delayed a week because of the shutdown.
The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that the economy is growing at a moderate pace but still needs its support. Fed policymakers decided to continue purchasing $85 billion a month in bonds. The bond purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more borrowing and spending.
In a statement, the Fed struck a slightly more optimistic tone about the economy. That suggests the Fed might pull back on its stimulus as early as December, economists said.
Most economists expect growth at an annual rate of between 1.5 percent and 2 percent in the July-September quarter, and about the same in the final three months of the year.