U.S. Jobless Claims Hover Near Lowest Level in Four Decades

Workers at an auto shop in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, giving workers more reason to feel secure in their jobs.

Jobless claims rose by 3,000 to 259,000 in the week ended Oct. 17, a report from the Labor Department showed on Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 265,000. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, was the lowest in four decades.

Claims have stayed within a historically low range in the past few months as employers retain staff to meet demand driven by steady consumer spending. At the same time, the pace of hiring has eased amid slowing overseas markets and lingering weakness in manufacturing and energy-related industries.

“The level of outright layoffs is very low,’ said Thomas Simons, a money-market economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, who projected 260,000 claims. ‘‘There isn’t much fat left to trim” in the labor market.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for weekly jobless claims ranged from 250,000 to 275,000. The previous week’s figure was revised to 256,000 from an initially reported 255,000.

The data cover the period that the Labor Department surveys businesses and households to calculate payrolls and the jobless rate for October.

The four-week moving average decreased to 263,250, the lowest since December 1973. The comparable reading for the September survey week was 272,500.

Continuing Claims

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 6,000 to 2.17 million in the week ended Oct. 10. The four-week average declined to the lowest since November 2000.

The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.6 percent, where it’s been since mid-September. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

No states estimated data last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data were released.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings, and a sustained low level of applications has typically coincided with bigger job gains. Many layoffs may also reflect company- or industry-specific causes, such as cost-cutting or business restructuring, rather than underlying labor market trends.

Since early March, claims have been below the 300,000 level that economists say is typically consistent with an improving job market.

Hiring Cools

Nevertheless, employment growth has taken a step down as hiring has cooled. The economy added fewer workers than projected in September and revisions cut the job count in prior months. The unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.1 percent, and wages stagnated. A report this week showed payrolls fell last month in a majority of states.

The job market’s cumulative improvement is among reasons Federal Reserve policy makers, who meet on Oct. 27-28, are contemplating raising interest rates for the first time in almost a decade. The benchmark rate has been near zero since


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