Jan 12, 8:39 AM EST

Applications for US jobless aid rise to still-low 247,000

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the increase was modest and overall applications remain low, a sign of a steady job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 247,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, slipped 1,750 to 256,500. And the number of people receiving aid fell 29,000 to 2.1 million. That's down 7.2 percent from a year ago.

THE TAKEAWAY: Applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, are at historic lows. That suggests businesses are confident enough in future demand to hold tightly onto their staffs. As a result, they are cutting few jobs and many are looking to hire.

The increase in applications comes a week after they fell to nearly a 43-year low. Applications have been below 300,000 for 97 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1970.

KEY DRIVERS: Consumer and business confidence have spiked since the election, which could translate into greater spending and business investment. That, in turn, could extend the current streak of 75 straight months of job gains.

Hiring has slowed from last year but remains high enough to lower the unemployment rate over time. Employers added 156,000 jobs in December, the government said last week. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7 percent from 4.6 percent in November.

Auto and home sales remain healthy, evidence that Americans are willing to make big-ticket purchases.

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