WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, another sign that U.S. workers are enjoying job security.
The Labor Department said Thursday that claims for jobless aid fell by 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 246,000. The less-volatile four-week average rose by 2,250 to 248,000. Overall, 2.06 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, down more than 8 percent from a year ago.
Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs. The low levels suggest that employers feel they need to hang on to their workers in a tight labor market. Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, says "companies fear that they won't be able to replace people who they let go... This isn't going to change anytime soon, so we expect claims to remain close to their current level." Weekly unemployment claims have now come in below 300,000 for 100 straight weeks, longest such streak since 1970.
The U.S. labor market is solid. The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, close to a nine-year low and to what economists consider full employment. Employers last year added 180,000 jobs a month, solid but down from a monthly average of 229,000 in 2015.
The Labor Department releases its jobs report for January on Friday. Economists expect that the economy generated 175,000 new jobs last month and that unemployment remained at 4.7 percent.