By John S. McClenahen Initial claims for unemployment compensation fell by 2,000 to 389,000 during the week ending Aug. 17, reveal the latest data from the U.S. Labor Department's Employment & Training Administration. Claims for the previous week were revised upward to 391,000. The numbers are consistent with a stabilizing U.S. labor market. But the question remains: Is the U.S. economy creating a significant number of new jobs? The recent answer has been "No." Another response will come on Sept. 6, when the Labor Department is slated to release employment data for August. Merrill Lynch & Co., New York, is expecting to see payroll gains of about 50,000. With all other economic factors being equal, that kind of increase in jobs could persuade Alan Greenspan and his colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee to keep the short-term interest rate target at 1.75% -- although with a "bias" toward a cut in the federal funds rate in the near future.