The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to a level that signals only modest hiring. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell only slightly last week to a seasonally adjusted 382,000.

The level suggests hiring remains weak. Employers added only 96,000 jobs last month, below July's total of 141,000.

Weekly unemployment benefit applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. They have been near 370,000 since the spring.

When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it usually indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate. But even though layoffs remain at low levels, overall hiring has been weak.

With the election just seven weeks away, the weekly jobless reports are becoming increasingly significant. The unemployment rate dropped in August to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, but only because the number of people working or looking for work fell.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images