Applications for jobless aid expected to fall slightly

MarketsAssociated 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.

MODEST DECLINE: Economists forecast that weekly applications fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000, according to a survey by data provider FactSet.

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Applications have been under 300,000 for 11 of the past 12 weeks, a historically low level indicating that employers foresee continued economic growth. In the prior jobless claims report, the four-week average, a less volatile measure, was 299,000. That marks a 9 percent decrease over the past 12 months.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When fewer people seek unemployment benefits, it indicates that employers are retaining workers and may soon increase their hiring to accommodate more demand for their services and products.

ROBUST HIRING: As applications for unemployment benefits have trended downward, hiring has strengthened.

The economy gained 321,000 jobs in November_the highest monthly total in nearly three years, the Labor Department said last week.

The unemployment rate held steady at 5.8 percent, down from 6.7 percent at the start of the year.

In the first 11 months of this year, employers have added 2.65 million jobs. That already makes 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999.

The average hourly wage rose 9 cents to $24.66, the biggest gain in 17 months. Still, over the past 12 months, hourly pay has risen just 2.1 percent, slightly higher than the 1.7 percent inflation rate.