New claims for United States jobless benefits rose slightly in mid-April but the total number of people seeking unemployment insurance hit a 17-year low, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Jobless claims have remained below 300,000 for 111 consecutive weeks, the longest such streak since 1970 - when the US workforce and population were much smaller than they are today.
"Since mid-2016, labor market conditions have improved steadily and are now in line with levels last reached in 2006-07".
With the jobless rate at 4.5 percent, economists say the USA economy is approaching full employment, with companies likely to forgo layoffs, fearing they may not be able to replace the workers they dismiss.
Economists polled by Reuters had estimated initial claims to rise to 242,000 in the latest week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, a less-volatile measure of labor market trends, fell by 4,250 to 243,000 last week. An analyst forecast had called for an increase of 8,000 new claims. But factories hired more workers and increased working hours, underscoring the labour market's strength.
In a separate report, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its index for current manufacturing activity fell to a reading of 22.0 this month from 32.8 in March.
Firms reported an increase in manufacturing employment and workweek this month. Claims declined 17,000 between the March and April survey periods, suggesting that job growth likely picked up this month. The four-week moving average declined to 2.024mn from 2.026mn previously and at the lowest level for close to 17 years. The insured jobless rate also dropped by one-tenth in the week to 1.4 percent, matching its lowest reading in the current recovery, stated Barclays.
Meanwhile, continuing claims dropped below 2 million for the second consecutive time in the recovery.