Applications for US unemployment aid fall to 49-year low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since late 1969, a sign that employers are holding onto their workers despite signs of a slowing economy.

Weekly applications for jobless aid fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 202,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is the lowest since the week of December 6, 1969.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop to such a low number indicates that companies are cutting very few workers. That's a reassuring sign as other data, such as weak consumer and business spending, and sluggish growth overseas, point to slower U.S. growth this year.

A report Wednesday from payroll processor ADP found that businesses added just 129,000 jobs in March, down from 197,000 the previous month.

Still, economists expect that the government's March jobs report, to be released Friday, will show a solid rebound from the paltry 20,000 jobs gained in February.

"We see the initial claims data as consistent with healthy labor market conditions and in line with the widely anticipated rebound in the pace of payroll employment in March," Jonathan Miller, an economist at Barclays, said in a note to clients.

Analysts forecast that a solid 170,000 jobs were added, enough to lower the unemployment rate over time, according to data provider FactSet. The unemployment rate likely remained near a five-decade low of 3.8%, analysts project.

Growth has slowed since it topped 4% at an annual rate in the April-June quarter of last year, decelerating to just 2.2% in the final three months of 2018. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta projects the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.1% pace in the first three months of this year.