WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but applications still stayed near historic lows that point to a stable job market.
THE NUMBERS: Applications for jobless aid rose 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 276,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less-volatile four-week average rose 3,500 to 263,250. The number of people receiving unemployment checks has fallen 6.3 percent over the past year to 2.17 million. Weekly claims have now been below 300,000 for 55 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1973.
THE TAKEAWAY: Employers are confident that the U.S. economy will continue to grow, after global pressures and an uneven stock market stirred concerns at the start of the year. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the steady lows indicate that businesses are still looking to hire.
Weekly jobless claims have remained below the crucial threshold of 300,000 for more than a year, a level that usually corresponds with monthly gains in excess of 200,000.
Economists expect that Friday's jobs report will show that employers hired roughly 200,000 workers in February as the unemployment rate held at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.
KEY DRIVERS: The U.S. economy has shown signs of durability, as financial volatility and economic weakness have rocked major trading partners such as China, Japan and parts of Europe.
Consumers have largely provided the foundation for continued growth. Prior job gains have translated into more spending at restaurants and online retailers. Many Americans have also stepped up their purchases of homes and cars, which has further aided growth.
Still, the manufacturing sector has been struggling because of slipping demand in foreign markets and a strong dollar that makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas.