Applications for US unemployment aid likely dipped last week as layoffs remain low

Economic Indicators Associated Press

The U.S. Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. The report will be released Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

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SMALL DIP: Economists forecast that weekly applications declined 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000, according to a survey by FactSet.

If the forecasts are accurate, it would be the seventh straight week of applications below 300,000. Applications below that level are consistent with a healthy job market.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They plunged three weeks ago to 264,000, the lowest level in 14 years. They have fallen 19 percent in the past year.

The very low level of applications suggests employers are keeping their workers and many stepping up hiring.

HEALTHY JOB GAINS: The decline in applications has coincided with robust hiring this year. Employers have added an average of 227,000 jobs a month in 2014, up from an average of 194,000 last year. The economy has gained 2.64 million jobs in the past 12 months, the best annual showing since April 2006. The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.9 percent, a six-year low.

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Analysts are hopeful that the pickup in job gains will boost consumers' ability to spend and fuel greater economic growth. The Commerce Department will release its first estimate of growth in the July-September quarter on Thursday. Analysts expect it will show that the economy expanded at a 3 percent annual rate, according to FactSet. That is a healthy pace, though down from a blistering 4.6 percent in the second quarter.

Despite the improved hiring, the job market is still far from full health. More than 7 million people hold part-time jobs but want full-time work, up from 4.6 million before the downturn. And there are still twice as many people unemployed for longer than six months as there were before the recession, even though that figure has steadily declined in the past three years.