Jobless Claims in U.S. Holding Just Above a Four-Decade Low

A factory worker welds a lawnmower frame together on the assembly line in Coatesville, Indiana.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. are hovering close to a four-decade low, a sign of muted firings and steady progress in the labor market.

Jobless claims rose by 5,000 to 274,000 in the week ended Aug. 8, from a revised 269,000 in the prior period, a report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The four-week moving average, a less-volatile measure of job cuts, declined to the lowest level in more than 15 years.

Limited staffing reductions indicate employers are content with headcounts as U.S. demand holds up against weaker global markets. Another report Thursday showed retail sales climbed in July as hiring keeps consumers spending and the economy growing.

“We haven’t seen claims at a 300,000 level since February and the economy has shown a lot of signs of improvement since then, ignoring what’s going on beyond the borders,” Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, said before the report.

Figures from the Commerce Department released at the same time showed sales at the nation’s retailers climbed 0.6 percent last month, led by purchases of cars and furniture. Eleven of the 13 major retail categories increased.

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for no change in jobless claims from the 270,000 previously reported in the prior week. Estimates of the 50 economists ranged from 260,000 to 281,000. Applications for benefits dropped to 255,000 in mid-July, the lowest level since November 1973.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly numbers, decreased to 266,250 last week, the lowest since the week ended April 15, 2000, from 268,000.

No states estimated data last week and there was nothing unusual in the report, the Labor Department said.

Continuing Claims

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 15,000 to 2.27 million in the week ended Aug. 1. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.7 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Beginning in March, claims have remained below the 300,000 level that economists say is typically consistent with an improving job market.

Limited dismissals have been accompanied by steady hiring. Companies in the U.S. added 211,000 workers on average this year through July, compared with 281,000 a month in the last half of 2014.

Such job growth has moved Federal Reserve policy makers closer to their first increase in interest rates since 2006. The policy-making Federal Open Market Committee next meets on Sept. 16-17.

Federal Reserve

New York Fed President William Dudley said on Wednesday that the central bank is approaching the moment when it can start raising interest rates, though the exact timing will be dictated by incoming economic data.

Another report Thursday from the Labor Department showed limited signs of inflation. Prices of merchandise and materials imported to the U.S. dropped 0.9 percent in July, the biggest decline since January. Excluding fuels, the cost of goods made overseas decreased 2.6 percent from July 2014, the most since October 2009.

While he’s not sure when lift-off will begin, Dudley said during a speech in Rochester, New York, that “clearly we’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of years, so we’re certainly getting nearer to that point in time.”

Odds of a September rate move have declined from 54 percent on Friday amid global financial market volatility spurred by the surprise decision of the People’s Bank of China on Tuesday to devalue the yuan.

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