Applications for US jobless aid rose slightly last week

WASHINGTON (AP) — More people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, but the levels remain near historic lows that point toward a healthy job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for jobless benefits rose 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 269,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked down to 269,250, not far off from the recent low of 259,250 achieved at the end of October.

Weekly filings have stayed below the key threshold of 300,000 since late March, which is usually associated with net monthly job gains in excess of 200,000.

The number of people collecting benefits has fallen 9.3 percent from a year ago to 2.2 million.

THE TAKEAWAY: The job market looks healthy because employers are laying off relatively few workers and potentially adding staff in anticipation of continued economic growth.

KEY DRIVERS: Hiring over the past three years has returned more Americans to work, prompting some evidence that wages are starting to rise at a stronger pace. The possibility of higher incomes could support additional growth through consumer spending, offsetting some of the drag caused by a strong dollar and weak global economy.

BIG PICTURE: Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs, so the low level indicates that job growth will continue. Employers are expected to have added roughly 200,000 jobs in the November jobs report being released Friday.

The economy gained 271,000 jobs in October, the largest monthly increase this year. The unemployment rate fell to 5 percent from 5.1 percent in the previous month. Employers have added an average of 206,000 jobs a month so far this year, enough to lower the unemployment rate over time.

There have also been signs that average pay is finally picking up after roughly six years of sluggish growth during the recovery from the Great Recession. Average hourly earnings have risen 2.5 percent over the past 12 months.

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