Jobless Claims in U.S. Hold at Lowest Level Since Mid-April

The number of applications for U.S. unemployment benefits last week held at the lowest level since mid-April, further evidence of a strong labor market.

Jobless claims were unchanged at 254,000 in the week ended July 9, according to a Labor Department report released Thursday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for filings to increase to 265,000. In April, applications dropped to a four-decade low of 248,000.

Companies having trouble finding qualified and skilled workers are hesitant to dismiss employees as demand shows signs of picking up after a weak start to the year. Weekly claims have been below 300,000 for 71 straight weeks, the longest period since 1973 and consistent with robust employment conditions.

“The U.S. economy is doing fine,” said Thomas Costerg, a senior U.S. economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York. Still, “it’s difficult to go down further in jobless claims. We may have reached the bottom.”

Estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists ranged from 255,000 to 282,000. No states were estimated last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.

Claims data in July typically can be volatile as automakers begin the process of temporarily shutting down plants to retool for the new model year. In Michigan last week, applications for jobless benefits increased more than 9,000 on an unadjusted basis, while claims in Ohio rose almost 2,300.

Because of such seasonal events, economists tend to focus on a rolling monthly average that smoothes out the weekly fluctuations. The four-week average of claims declined to 259,000, the lowest since the end of April, from 264,750 in the prior period.

Continuing Claims

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 32,000 to 2.15 million in the week ended July 2. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits increased to 1.6 percent from 1.5 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

The claims data coincide with a rebound in hiring last month after a lull in May. The latest payrolls report showed the U.S. economy added 287,000 jobs in June after an 11,000 increase a month earlier, indicating that the jobs market was still churning and the weak number in May an outlier.

Federal Reserve policy makers are focused on progress in the labor market. Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s June 14-15 meeting showed officials were concerned about the May slowdown in the jobs market.

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