US weekly jobless claims fall to a low 216,000

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs declined and hiring is likely strong.

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The Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000, a very low level by historical standards. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 235,750.

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Applications are a proxy for layoffs, since people cannot claim benefits unless they lose a job through no fault of their own. Businesses are hiring at healthy levels and posted the most open jobs in nearly two decades in December. With demand for workers strong, companies are holding onto their staffs.

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Other economic reports have suggested growth may be slowing this year. Manufacturing output and retail sales have both fallen in the past two months.