WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits was unchanged last week, remaining at the lowest point since mid-April.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly benefit applications held steady at 254,000, following a decline of 16,000 in the previous week. It was the lowest point since the number fell to 248,000 for the week of April 16.
Weekly claims, which are a proxy for layoffs, have been below 300,000 for 71 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch since 1973.
However, Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macro, said the numbers from the last two weeks weren’t enough to signal broader improvement. Claims figures are hard to read at this time of year because they are distorted by the annual plant shutdowns in the auto industry to retool for a new model year, he said.
The government reported last week that employers added 287,000 jobs in June, the strongest gain in eight months and a sharp rebound after May’s anemic payroll gain of 11,000. The solid June performance eased concerns of a possible economic downturn.
Even with the June surge, job growth has been slowing in recent months from the sizzling pace set last year. Economists say that is to be expected given the fact that the economic expansion has now entered its eighth year.
But they view as an encouraging sign the fact that layoffs have not been increasing, evidence that businesses are confident that the economy will continue growing at a solid pace in the face of unexpected bumps such as the June 23 vote in Britain to leave the European Union. That development sent temporary shockwaves through global financial markets.
The U.S. economy has turned in anemic growth rates for the past two quarters, expanding at a modest pace of just 1.1 percent, as measured by the gross domestic product, in the January-March quarter. Analysts believe GDP accelerated to growth above 2 percent in the just-completed April-June quarter.
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