Jobless claims fall to 258K; market looks healthy
Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, the federal government reports, more evidence that the U.S. job market remains healthy.
Weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 254,250.
The number of people receiving benefits rose 65,000 to 2.05 million. Yet that figure is down 5.7 percent from a year ago. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week’s claims data. Claims for Louisiana and Hawaii were estimated.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs and have remained below 300,000, a historically low level, for 108 weeks. That’s the longest such stretch since 1970, when the U.S. workforce and population were much smaller than they are today.
Such a low level of applications suggests companies are cutting few jobs. It also indicates that those who are laid off might not be seeking unemployment aid as often as in the past. That could be a good sign that they are quickly finding jobs, economist say.
The U.S. economy is growing at a steady, if unspectacular, pace and companies stepped up hiring at the beginning of the year, data show.
The economy grew at a modest 2.1 percent annual rate in the final three months of last year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That’s down from 3.5 percent in the third quarter.
For all of last year, growth was a sluggish 1.6 percent, according to data from the Commerce Department.
Projections of the nation’s economy growth for 2017 vary greatly. Economic forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers this week lowered its projection of economic growth in the current quarter to an annual rate of 1.3 percent.
Barclays, meanwhile, projected a 1.4 percent growth rate, compared with 1.6 percent earlier. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta lowered its estimate to 0.9 percent from a 1.2 percent growth rate.
U.S. employers added an average of 237,000 jobs in January and February, a pickup from last year’s average gains of 187,000. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7 percent last month from 4.8 percent.
Meanwhile, nonfarm payrolls rose by a healthy 238,000 in January and 235,000 in February, the Labor Department said in separate reports. Wages, meanwhile, have shown signs of improving, a sign employers are being forced to raise pay in a tightening labor market.
Meanwhile, consumer prices rose 2.7 percent last month compared with a year earlier, the biggest annual gain since March 2012, the Labor Department reported.