WASHINGTON | Slightly more people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, but the number of applications remained at a historically low level suggesting a strong job market.
THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department says weekly applications rose by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000. The less volatile four-week average fell 2,750 to 242,250.
The number of people receiving unemployment benefit checks rose 11,835 to 1,828,688. That figure has fallen by 10 percent in the past year.
THE TAKEAWAY: Applications are a close indication of layoffs. They have come in below 300,000, a historically low level, for 121 weeks in a row. That’s the longest such stretch since 1970. 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 1.4 percent, according to a new government estimate. Analysts, however, expect faster growth in the April-June quarter
With the jobless rate so low, many businesses say they are struggling to find workers for their open positions.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said this week that the 4.3 percent unemployment rate is below the level that most of her fellow Fed policymakers “believe is sustainable in the long run.” Yellen said most policymakers believe that as unemployment falls, it will begin pushing up wages and that will result in higher levels of inflation. The Fed has raised its key short-term interest rate by a quarter-point three times since December, most recently this month, to a range of 1 to 1.25 percent, partly because of this concern.