NEW YORK – A surprisingly poor signal on the jobs market sent stocks slightly lower Thursday as investors remained worried about a lack of hiring.

Investors tried to muster a late-day rally, but there wasn’t enough momentum to push the Dow Jones industrial average into positive territory. The Dow closed down 5 points after dropping as much as 68 points earlier in the day. Broader indexes also fell modestly.

Trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange fell to its second-lowest level of the year as many traders avoid the market altogether.

The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits jumped to 479,000 last week from 460,000 a week earlier. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast new claims would fall modestly.

“The trend is going exactly in the wrong direction,” said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors. However, Orlando cautioned that layoffs of temporary census workers might have skewed results somewhat.

Traders will get a stronger reading on the jobs market today when the government releases its closely watched monthly tally of payrolls and the unemployment rate. Investors have been getting mixed signals on the economy in recent weeks, and sent stocks higher on Wednesday after the payroll company ADP reported that private employers slightly increased hiring last month.

In other news, monthly retail sales reports showed shoppers remain skittish about spending as hiring remains scarce. Costco Wholesale Corp. and Limited Brands Inc. both reported big jumps in July sales, but that was compared with weak results a year ago.

The Dow fell 5.45 points, or 0.1 percent, to 10,674.98. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 1.43, or 0.1 percent, to 1,125.81, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 10.51, or 0.5 percent, to 2,293.06.

About four stocks fell for every three that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 875.6 million shares, only about two-thirds the average of 1.34 billion traded daily over the past 200 days.