US weekly requests for jobless aid down 5,000, to 240,000

Fewer Americans applied for jobless aid last week, keeping the number of people seeking benefits close to historic lows.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly unemployment applications fell by 5,000 to 240,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less volatile four-week average declined 2,500 to 241,750. The number of people collecting unemployment benefits has fallen 8.6 percent over the past 12 months to about 2 million.

THE TAKEAWAY: The job market appears solid as the U.S. enters its ninth year of recovery from the Great Recession. Employers are holding onto workers with the expectation that business will continue to improve. Jobless claims — a close indication of layoffs — have come in below 300,000 for 126 weeks in a row. That's the longest such stretch since 1970, when the U.S. population was much smaller.

KEY DRIVERS: The economy revved up this spring after a weak start to the year, fueled by a surge in consumer spending. The government reported last week that growth in the gross domestic product, the economy's total output of goods and services, expanded at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter. That's more than double the revised 1.2 percent in the first quarter.

This year, the economy is expected to grow at roughly 2 percent. That would be roughly in line with annual gains during the recovery. Consistent hiring has helped sustain the gradual recovery, although the expansion is starting to show its age as the pace of job gains has slowed this year.

The unemployment rate has fallen to a healthy 4.4 percent. Economists expect the government's report for July, to be issued Friday, to show that U.S. employers added 180,000 jobs.

The Federal Reserve said last week that it's keeping its key interest rate unchanged at a time when inflation remains undesirably low despite the job market continuing to strengthen.