Applications for US unemployment benefits likely fell last week as layoffs decline

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.

APPLICATIONS EVEN LOWER: Economists forecast that weekly applications dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 280,000, according to a survey by data provider FactSet.

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The weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They are near their lowest levels in 14 years, solid evidence that businesses are confident enough in the economy to hold onto their employees. That confidence also suggests that businesses will continue to add jobs at a healthy pace.

STRONGER HIRING: The four week average of applications, a less volatile measure, has plunged 17.2 percent in the past 12 months. At the same time, hiring has picked up.

Employers have added an average of 229,000 jobs a month this year, which puts 2014 on pace to be strongest year for hiring since 1999. That's up from an average of 194,000 last year.

The steady job gains have helped push the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent, a six-year low.

Still, the scars of the Great Recession haven't fully healed. There are more than 7 million Americans working part-time jobs but who would prefer full-time work. That compares with 4.6 million before the recession. And there are still 2 million fewer Americans working full-time jobs than before the downturn.

The job gains have also yet to push up wages much, limiting the broader growth of the U.S. economy. Average hourly pay rose 3 cents in October to $24.57. That's just 2 percent above the average wage 12 months earlier and barely ahead of a 1.7 percent inflation rate.