WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose slightly last week yet remained at a low level consistent with solid job growth.
Weekly applications for jobless aid rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, declined to 271,750.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and the low readings suggest Americans are enjoying solid job security. Steady economic growth has encouraged employers to hold onto the workers they already have and is spurring more hiring. The four-week average fell to a 15-year low last month.
The steady stream of low readings also indicates that employers have not been spooked by signs of slowing growth in China or recent volatility in the stock market.
"Overall employment growth remains more than strong enough to keep the unemployment rate declining," Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note to clients. "Domestic strength is offsetting foreign weakness."
The number of people receiving benefits was essentially unchanged at 2.24 million.
Employers have added an average of 221,000 jobs a month in the past three months, a solid pace and above the average of 189,000 in the preceding three months. The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.1 percent, a seven-year low.
The job market's recovery is a key reason Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has indicated that the Fed may raise short-term interest rates by the end of this year. The Fed decided against raising rates at its meeting last week, citing too-low inflation and economic turmoil overseas. The interest rate the Fed controls has been pegged near zero for seven years.
"The pace of job gains has been solid, the unemployment rate has declined, and overall labor market conditions have continued to improve," Yellen said at a press conference last week.
The Fed and global financial markets have been unnerved by signs that China's economy, the world's second-largest, is stumbling after years of double-digit growth. On Wednesday, a measure of Chinese factory activity fell to its lowest level in six years.
Recent data on the U.S. economy have been mixed. Sales of existing homes slipped last month but have increased at a healthy pace in the past year, the National Association of Realtors said Monday.
Yet orders for long-lasting factory goods fell sharply last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday, dragged down by sharp declines in aircraft and auto orders.
The economy expanded at a 3.7 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, though most analysts expect it will slow for the rest of the year. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimates growth will be just 1.5 percent in the third quarter.