US jobless claims hit lowest level in more than 43 years

Markets Associated Press

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 19, 2016, file photo, a job applicant attends a job fair in Miami Lakes, Fla. On Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, the Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits a week earlier. (AP ... Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) (The Associated Press)

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level in more than 43 years, another sign that most American workers enjoy job security.

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THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that 234,000 Americans sought jobless aid, a drop of 15,000 from the previous week and the lowest since November 1973. The four-week average, which is less volatile, fell by 10,250 to 246,750, also the lowest since November 1973. The total number of people receiving unemployment benefits was 2.05 million, down 7.7 percent from a year earlier.

THE TAKEAWAY: Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. They have now come in below 300,000 for 98 straight weeks. The low totals suggest that businesses are confident about their prospects that they are holding on staff.

KEY DRIVERS: The unemployment rate last month came in at 4.7 percent, close to what economists consider full employment.

Employers aren't cutting many jobs, but their hiring has slowed. They added 180,000 jobs a month last year, down from an average 229,000 in 2015.

Still, Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a research note that job growth is still "more than strong enough to keep the unemployment rate trending down."