Shortly after 10 a.m., the Dow was down two points to 13,556, flipping between minor gains and losses.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index lost two points to 1,459 and the Nasdaq composite slipped eight points 3,096.
Weekly applications for unemployment benefits jumped to a four-month high, a sharp rise from the previous week. The increase suggested that layoffs were increasing, however the Labor Department noted that there were technical reasons behind the swing, mainly delayed figures from one large state, California.
American Express sank 2.3 percent, the biggest loss of any Dow stock. The credit-card company reported quarterly revenue late Wednesday that fell short of Wall Street's expectations even though earnings were in line. Amex said card holders' rate of spending has slowed in recent months. Its stock lost $1.37 to $58.00
BB&T bank, Philip Morris and Boston Scientific all fell after reporting earnings that came in below analysts' forecasts. Google and Microsoft are scheduled to report results after the market closes.
Analysts expect that earnings at S&P 500 companies shrank overall in the third quarter, according to S&P Capital IQ. That would be the first drop in three years.
Better earnings from Johnson & Johnson and other companies, along with encouraging reports on industrial production and the housing market, have pushed the stock market higher this week. The Dow is up 1.5 percent and the S&P 500 index up 1.9 percent for the week.
In other trading, yields on U.S. government bonds fell following the jump in weekly claims for unemployment benefits. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.79 percent from 1.82 percent late Wednesday.
Traders typically shift money into Treasurys on signs of weakness in the economy. When bond prices rise, their yields fall.