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Oct 8, 9:42 AM EDT

Drop in applications for US unemployment benefits last week

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AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, as employers hold onto workers despite a recent slowdown in hiring because of global pressures weighing on the U.S. economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for jobless aid fell 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 263,000. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, has fallen 8.2 percent over the past year to 267,500.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Recent lows had pointed to greater confidence among employers. The drop in weekly applications has reduced the total number of people receiving benefits. There are 2.2 million Americans collecting jobless aid, close to the lowest total since November 2000.

"While last week's employment report showed a notable slowdown in payrolls (through September), the jobless claims data continue to send an upbeat signal regarding conditions in the labor market," said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan Chase.

Yet the recent decline in hiring points to increased caution. Growth has slowed in China and stalled in Europe. Emerging economies such as Brazil and Turkey are also struggling, hurting the appetite for oil and U.S. exports.

The global setbacks hit job gains in September.

Employers added just 142,000. Monthly job growth averaged a mediocre 167,000 in the July-September quarter, down from 231,000 in the April-June period, the government said last week.

Jobless claims averaging less than 300,000 a week have traditionally corresponded with net monthly job gains of roughly 200,000.

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