Ap­pli­ca­tions for U.S. unem­ploy­ment aid re­main at 43-year low

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Christo­pher S. Ru­gaber

WASH­ING­TON » The num­ber of Amer­i­cans seek­ing unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits stayed at a 43-year low last week in the lat­est sign that lay­offs are scarce.

THE NUM­BERS » Weekly ap­pli­ca­tions for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits were un­changed at a sea­son­ally ad­justed 246,000, the La­bor De­part­ment said Thurs­day. The four-week av­er­age, a less volatile mea­sure, fell 3,500 to 249,250.

Both fig­ures were at their low­est lev­els since Novem­ber 1973.

The num­ber of peo­ple re­ceiv­ing aid fell 16,000 to just over 2 mil­lion. That is the fewest since June 2000.

THE TAKE­AWAY » Ap­pli­ca­tions are a proxy for lay­offs, so the fig­ures in­di­cate that com­pa­nies are cut­ting very few jobs. With the unem­ploy­ment rate down to 5 per­cent, from 10 per­cent in Oc­to­ber 2009, some busi­nesses say they are hav­ing trou­ble find­ing qual­i­fied work­ers. That sug­gests they are less likely to lay any­one off.

KEY DRIVERS » The four-decade low in unem­ploy­ment claims sug­gests the job mar­ket re­mains re­silient. That’s a key rea­son the Fed­eral Re­serve is likely to raise the short-term in­ter­est rate it con­trols by the end of the year.

Hir­ing has been solid this year, even as eco­nomic growth has been slow. The econ­omy ex­panded at a pace of just 1.1 per­cent in the first half of the year, though most econ­o­mists ex­pect it to pick up a bit.

Job gains have weak­ened a bit from the ro­bust gains of the two pre­vi­ous years. Hir­ing av­er­aged 178,000 a month in the first nine months of 2016, down from an av­er­age of 230,000 last year.

Still, that level of hir­ing is enough to re­duce the unem­ploy­ment rate over time, econ­o­mists say.

Last month the rate ticked up to 5 per­cent from 4.9 per­cent, but mostly for a good rea­son: More Amer­i­cans came off the side­lines and looked for work, a sign they were more con­fi­dent in their prospects. Not all found jobs, so the rate rose. Amer­i­cans who are out of work, but aren’t ac­tively look­ing, aren’t counted as un­em­ployed.

The num­ber of job open­ings fell to the low­est level in eight months in Au­gust, the govern­ment said Wed­nes­day, sug­gest­ing hir­ing could slip. Still, open­ings re­mained at a healthy level.

LYNNE SLADKY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this July 19, 2016, photo, a job ap­pli­cant at­tends a job fair in Miami Lakes, Fla. On Thurs­day, the La­bor De­part­ment re­ports on the num­ber of peo­ple who ap­plied for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits a week ear­lier.

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