Applications for US unemployment benefits likely ticked up last week but remain at low level

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.

SMALL RISE: Economists forecast that weekly applications rose 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000, according to a survey by FactSet. Despite the increase, that would be the fourth straight week of claims below 300,000, a clear sign of a job market on the mend.

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Applications have fallen nearly 10 percent over the past 12 months. And if expectations are in line, the four-week average for applications, a less volatile measure, would drop to the lowest level in more than eight years.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. The decline over the past year suggests that employers are keeping their workers, likely because they expect continued economic growth, and they may ready to add more people to their payrolls.

Applications for unemployment benefits are in decline, with the number of people collecting aid falling 17.8 percent over the past 12 months to 2.39 million.

STRONG HIRING: A steady drop in applications in September corresponded with robust hiring that month.

Employers added 248,000 jobs last month and hiring in the previous two months was healthier than previously believed, the government said Friday. That helped push down the unemployment rate down to 5.9 percent, a six-year low.

The economy has added 2.64 million jobs in the past 12 months, the best annual showing since April 2006.

The number of available jobs soared to a 13-year high in August, according to a separate government report Tuesday. That suggests employers will keep adding jobs at a healthy clip in the coming months.

Still, companies have been wary about filling positions, frustrating many job-seekers. Some employers say they can't find workers with the right skills. Many economists, however, say that firms may not be offering high enough pay to attract qualified applicants.

Despite the improved hiring, the job market is still scarred from the recession. More than 7 million people hold part-time jobs but want full-time work, up from 4.6 million before the downturn. And there are still twice as many people unemployed for longer than six months as there were before the recession, even though that figure has steadily declined in the past three years.