Applications for US jobless aid tick down to 238,000

Fewer people sought US unemployment benefits last week, a sign of strength in the job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for unemployment aid slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 238,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's near a four-decade low that was reached last month. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 2,250 to 242,250.

The number of people receiving aid increased 42,000 to 1.96 million, also near a four-decade low.

KEY DRIVERS: The data comes after other evidence that the economic recovery from the Great Recession remains strong in its eighth year. The unemployment rate has fallen to a 17-year low of 4.1 percent and growth reached 3.3 percent at an annual rate in the July-September quarter, the fastest in three years.

Hiring has been steady, despite interruptions from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Employers added 261,000 jobs in October, a healthy gain after hiring fell in September because of the storms.

THE TAKEAWAY: Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Any figure below 300,000 indicates that hiring is likely healthy, and employers are confident enough in future demand to keep their workers.

With unemployment so low, many companies say they are struggling to find qualified workers to fill jobs. With so few workers available, companies are even less likely to lay off employees.