Jobless claims drop to lowest level since 1969

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The number of Americans filing applications for new unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in half a century, the latest sign of a tight labor market.

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Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., decreased by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 202,000 in the week ended March 30, the Labor Department said Thursday.

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That was the lowest level for initial claims since Dec. 6, 1969, when the U.S. workforce and population were much smaller than they are today.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 218,000 new claims last week. Claims for the previous week were revised to 212,000 from an initial reading of 211,000.

The four-week moving average of claims, a steadier measure, fell last week by 4,000 to 213,500.

Thursday’s report showed the number of claims workers made for longer than a week decreased by 38,000 to 1,717,000 in the week ended March 23. The figure, also known as continuing claims, is reported with a one-week lag.

Thursday’s report suggests the labor market remains strong, leaving businesses reluctant to let workers go. That has spurred some of the fastest wage growth in the current business cycle.

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The unemployment rate was 3.8% in February, although nonfarm payrolls rose just 20,000, adjusted for seasonality, the Labor Department said in early March.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect the unemployment rate in March held steady at 3.8%, and employers added 175,000 new jobs. The Labor Department will release the jobs report for March on Friday.