Jul 30, 8:48 AM EDT

Applications for US jobless aid rise to still-low 267,000

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, though the increase was from a very low level and the figures still point to a healthy job market.

Applications for jobless aid rose 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile figure that is a better measure of underlying trends, dropped 3,750 to 274,750.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and two weeks ago they plummeted to the lowest level in almost 42 years. That suggests that Americans are enjoying a nearly unprecedented level of job security.

The number of people receiving benefits rose 46,000 to 2.26 million. That figure has fallen 11.2 percent in the past year as employers have stepped up hiring, though some of that decline reflects those who have exhausted all the benefits available to them.

Fewer layoffs have coincided with stronger job gains. 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.

Nearly 3 million jobs have been created in the past year. With that many more people earning paychecks, spending is picking up and helping fuel growth.

The economy expanded at a modest 2.3 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday, led by a solid 2.9 percent rise in consumer spending. The second quarter's growth was much better than the first quarter's 0.6 percent pace.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve highlighted the improving job market in a statement it released after its two-day meeting. The Fed made no change in the short-term interest rate it controls, but said the "labor market continues to improve, with solid job gains and declining unemployment."

That is a sunnier assessment than its previous statement in June. That suggests the Fed is closer to its goal of pushing the job market back to full health, analysts said, and may be getting closer to raising rates. Many economists think that will happen in September, but it could be delayed until December.

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