With the jobless rate at 4.5 percent, economists say the U.S. economy is approaching full employment, with companies likely to forgo layoffs, fearing they may not be able to replace the workers they dismiss.
The figures confirmed the long-running downward trend in workers seeking unemployment insurance, which has persisted at record low levels amid an increasingly tight labor market.
Initial claims have been below the benchmark level of 300,000 for 111 weeks in succession with a very prolonged period of low claims.
Initial jobless claims, meanwhile, rose by 10,000 to a still-low 244,000 in mid-April. A more stable measure, the four-week moving average of initial claims, fell by 4,250 last week to 243,000. The four-week moving average declined to 2.024mn from 2.026mn previously and at the lowest level for close to 17 years.
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The labor market's strength was underscored by other data on Thursday showing manufacturers in the mid-Atlantic region hired more workers this month and increased working hours, even as factory activity slowed from March's brisk pace. The index has been positive for nine consecutive months and remains at a relatively high reading.
The dollar was trading marginally lower against a basket of currencies, while USA stocks rose amid increased optimism around the first-quarter earnings season. Compared with the March survey week, claims are now 17K lower and the 4-week moving average is 3,500 lower. This provides additional evidence that the March employment data was negatively influenced by poor weather during the survey week, including a major snowstorm in the Northeast. Nonfarm payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 98,000 in March from the prior month, the Labor Department said, a slowdown from earlier in the year.
The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits declined to 1.4% from 1.5% in the latest week.
The claims data covered the survey week for April nonfarm payrolls.