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Feb 4, 8:40 AM EST

Applications for US jobless aid rise, but levels still low


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AP Photo/Mike Groll

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but applications stayed near historically low levels in a positive sign for the job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for jobless aid rose 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 285,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased slightly to 284,750. The number of people collecting aid has dropped 5.5 percent in the past year to 2.3 million.

THE TAKEAWAY: Jobless claims at these levels suggest that employers are still eager to hire. Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs. The number of people seeking benefits has stayed below the crucial threshold of 300,000 for the past 11 months, which suggests that employers are holding onto workers and looking to hire on the expectation of continued economic growth.

KEY DRIVERS: On the whole, most businesses appear to be insulated from the global slowdown that hurt U.S. economic growth in the final three months of 2015. U.S. consumers have more than offset the struggling manufacturing sector, a volatile stock market and a rising dollar that has stifled exports.

BIG PICTURE: The weekly claims below 300,000 have generally corresponded with strong hiring levels. Economists expect that the jobs report released Friday will show that the economy added a net 200,000 jobs in January, not quite as strong as the 292,000 workers hired in December but a solid showing amid the global tensions.

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