WASHINGTON-The number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits rose last week but remained near multi-decade lows, offering fresh evidence of the labor market's strength. Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., increased by 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 242,000 in the week ended March 31, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 225,000 new claims last week. Initial claims remain near levels last seen in the 1970s. They have held below 300,000 for 161 consecutive weeks, matching the longest streak in weekly records going back to 1967. Data can be volatile from week to week. The four-week moving average of claims, a more-stable measure, increased by 3,000 to 228,250. The low level of claims is among multiple signs of health in the U.S. labor market. The unemployment rate has held at 4.1% since October, the lowest level since late 2000. Nonfarm employers added a robust 313,000 jobs in February, and wages are rising modestly. Thursday's report showed the number of claims workers made for longer than a week dropped by 64,000 to 1,808,000 in the week ended March 24, the lowest level since December 1973 when it was 1,805,000. That figure, known as continuing claims, is reported with a one-week lag. Even when smoothing out volatility, continuing claims posted fresh lows. The four-week moving average for continuing claims fell to the lowest level since 1974, Thursday's report showed. The Labor Department releases the March jobs report Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal forecast the economy added 178,000 jobs and the unemployment rate nudged down to 4%.
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