Ap­pli­ca­tions for job­less ben­e­fits fall

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

WASH­ING­TON» Fewer Amer­i­cans sought un­em­ploy­ment aid last week, the lat­est sign that com­pa­nies are hold­ing onto their work­ers.

THE NUM­BERS » The La­bor Depart­ment said Thurs­day that weekly ap­pli­ca­tions for job­less ben­e­fits fell 11,000 to a sea­son­ally adjusted 254,000. That’s down from a three-month high in the pre­vi­ous week. The four­week av­er­age, a less volatile mea­sure, ticked up 1,750 to 259,750.

Just over 2 mil­lion peo­ple are re­ceiv­ing un­em­ploy­ment aid, up 18,000 from the pre­vi­ous week.

THE TAKE­AWAY » Ap­pli­ca­tions, which are a proxy for lay­offs, have re­mained be­low 300,000 for 88 straight weeks, the long­est streak since 1970.

Busi­nesses ap­pear to be con­fi­dent enough in their fu­ture prospects to main­tain their staffs. And when lay­offs are so low, com­pa­nies typ­i­cally step up hir­ing. A separate re­port ear­lier this week showed lay­offs near record-low lev­els.

Eco­nomic growth quick­ened to

a 2.9 per­cent an­nual pace in the July-Septem­ber quar­ter after a slug­gish start to the year of just 1.1 per­cent growth in the first half.

Hir­ing has slowed from last year but re­mains solid enough to lower the un­em­ploy­ment rate over time. Em­ploy­ers added 161,000 jobs in Oc­to­ber, and the

un­em­ploy­ment rate fell to 4.9 per­cent, the govern­ment said last week.

KEY DRIV­ERS >> Many com­pa­nies are strug­gling to fill their open jobs, sug­gest­ing that they can­not find the qual­i­fied work­ers they need. That makes them less likely to cut loose their cur­rent em­ploy­ees.

Amer­i­cans’ will­ing­ness to spend on big-ticket items such as cars and homes is help­ing fuel growth. Sales of both are at healthy lev­els, though they ap­pear to be lev­el­ing off.

Busi­nesses, mean­while, have cut back on their in­vest­ments in new ma­chin­ery and equip­ment, drag­ging down fac­tory out­put and weigh­ing on growth. Those cut­backs may have been partly driven by un­cer­tainty over the out­come of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. With the elec­tion over, some com­pa­nies may be will­ing to step up spend­ing.

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