WASHINGTON (AP) — Slightly more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but their numbers remain near historic lows in a sign that the job market is healthy.
The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for jobless aid rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 270,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 6,500 to 268,250. That average has fallen nearly 10 percent over the past year, close to levels last seen in 2000.
"Initial claims for unemployment insurance have been below 300,000 for 22 straight weeks, the longest such stretch since 1973," said Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services. "Claims are running at a pace consistent with monthly job growth of better than 200,000."
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Their steady decline suggests that employers are confident about the health of the economy and prospects for continued growth.
On Friday, the government will release its July employment report. Economists expect that employers added another 225,000 jobs last month as the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.3 percent, according to data firm FactSet.
The drop in people seeking unemployment benefits has corresponded with the solid pace of hiring.
Employers have added an average of 221,000 jobs a month in the past three months, driving down the unemployment rate to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent. The economy has created 2.9 million jobs over the past 12 months, gains that helped boost spending on housing and autos.
The July jobs report will influence when the Federal Reserve decides to raise interest rates from near-zero levels. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said that it may hike rates later this year, which would end an economic stimulus in place since late 2008 that was designed to boost borrowing, spending and investing in the economy.
Many economists say that job gains at the current level should cause the Fed to raise rates in September, although other economists expect the rate increase to begin in December.