The number of Americans making initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose slightly last week but the four-week moving average of claims fell to its lowest level since July 1973.
The Labor Department said initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, increased 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000 for the week ended Feb. 18. Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 241,000 from a revised 245,000 in the prior week.
Jobless applications have now stayed below the 300,000 threshold normally associated with a strong jobs market for 103 straight weeks, the longest period since 1970 when the labor market was much smaller.
“All indications are that job creation remains solid, underscoring the resiliency of the nearly eight-year economic recovery,” Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Mich., told Reuters.
The four-week moving average of claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 4,000 to 241,000 last week, the lowest reading since July 1973 when it was 239,500. The report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 17,000 to 2.06 million in the week ended Feb. 11.
The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims declined 10,750 to 2.07 million.
“The message of this report remains that layoffs rates are extremely subdued,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York. “We view subdued layoffs as a sign of labor market tightness with employers retaining the labor they have amid elevated job openings and a lack of available workers.”
The labor market is at or close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at 4.8%. The continuing strength of the labor market has fueled speculation that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month.