WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 354,000. Still, the level of applications is consistent with steady hiring and remains near a five-year low.
The Labor Department said Thursday that applications increased from a revised 344,000 the previous week, slightly higher than the 340,000 initially reported.
The gains pushed the less volatile four-week average up 6,750 to 347,250, the third straight increase.
Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fallen nearly 7 percent since November and touched a five-year low of 338,000 earlier this month.
The decline in applications for unemployment aid has coincided with solid hiring. In the past six months, employers have added an average of 208,000 jobs a month. That’s up from an average of only 138,000 in the previous six months.
The unemployment rate has fallen to a four-year low of 7.5 percent, down from 10 percent in October 2009. The drop in unemployment has occurred, in part, because many people have given up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively searching for a job.
“We can’t make too many inferences from one week’s results but the trend, overall, still points to improving labor markets,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Five states were unable to report data to the Labor Department, a spokesman said, because of the Memorial Day holiday. The department estimated figures for those states. Last week’s figure will be revised when the final data is received.
Nearly 4.6 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits the week that ended May 11, the latest data available. That’s down 25 percent from 6.1 million a year earlier.