WASHINGTON – Slightly more people sought US unemployment benefits last week, but the number of applications remained at a historically low level that suggests the job market is healthy.
THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department says weekly applications rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 241,000. The less-volatile four-week average ticked up 1,500 to 244,750.
The number of people receiving unemployment benefit checks rose 8,000 to 1.94 million. That figure has fallen by more than 9 percent in the past year.
THE TAKEAWAY: Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and they have come in below 300,000, a historically low level, for 120 weeks in a row. That's the longest such stretch since 1970. The figure echoes other recent data that suggest businesses need workers. Employers have added jobs at a steady pace this year, though somewhat slower than in 2016, and the unemployment rate is at a 16-year low of 4.3 percent.
KEY DRIVERS: Businesses are hiring despite slow growth in the first three months of the year, when the economy expanded at an annual rate of just 1.2 percent. Analysts, however, expect growth will pick up to nearly 3 percent in the April-June quarter.
With the jobless rate so low, many businesses say they are struggling to find workers for their open positions. The number of open jobs reached a record level of 6 million, according to a separate Labor Department report.