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Mar 16, 8:46 AM EDT

US claims for unemployment benefits slip by 2,000

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AP Photo/LM Otero

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a further indication of the health of the labor market.

THE NUMBERS: Applications for jobless benefits slipped by 2,000 to 241,000 after claims had risen by 20,000 in the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Two weeks ago claims had fallen to a 44-year low of 223,000. The four-week average, which is less volatile, rose by 750 last week to 237,250.

Overall, 2.03 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, 8.2 percent lower than a year ago.

THE TAKEAWAY: Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. They have now come in below 300,000 for 106 weeks, the longest such streak since 1970. The low level of claims suggests employers have enough confidence in the economy that they see no need to shed staff.

KEY DRIVERS: Employers added a solid 235,000 jobs in February, pushing the unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent. That level is slightly better than the 4.8 percent jobless rate that the Federal Reserve considers full employment.

At their meeting this week, Fed officials boosted their benchmark lending rate by a quarter-point to a new range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent. It marked the second rate hike in three months, representing an acceleration of the pace of the past two years which saw the Fed nudge rates up by a quarter-point once in 2015 and once in 2016.

The Fed is projecting it will raise rates a total of three times this year but says it still expects the pace of those hikes to be gradual.

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