The number of Americans filing
for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to near a
43-year low, amid a further tightening of the labor market that
could eventually spur faster wage growth.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped
12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 for the week ended Feb.
4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That left claims just
shy of the 43-year low of 233,000 touched in early November.
Claims have now remained below 300,000, a threshold
associated with a strong labor market, for 101 straight weeks.
That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market
was much smaller.
The labor market is at or close to full employment, with the
unemployment rate at 4.8 percent. It hit a nine-year low of 4.6
percent in November.
Further tightening in labor market conditions could boost wage growth, which has remained stubbornly sluggish despite anecdotal evidence of more companies struggling to find qualified workers.
Lackluster wage growth, if sustained, could hurt consumer
spending and crimp economic growth. Economists polled by Reuters
had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising
to 250,000 in the latest week.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special
factors influencing last week's data and no states had been
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better
measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week
volatility, fell 3,750 to 244,250 last week, the lowest level
since November 1973.
The claims report also showed the number of people still
receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 15,000
to 2.08 million in the week ended Jan. 28. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims fell 3,750 to 2.08 million.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)
((Lucia.Mutikani@thomsonreuters.com; 1 202 898 8315; Reuters