The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to remain near historically low levels, suggesting firms are reluctant to lay off workers.
Initial jobless claims decreased by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000 in the week ended Sept. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the lowest level for claims since the week ended July 16.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 265,000 new claims. Claims for the prior week were unrevised at 263,000.
The Labor Department said there were no special factors impacting the latest data. Figures for five states and Puerto Rico were estimated last week. The latest week of data concluded just ahead of the Labor Day holiday. While the data is seasonally adjusted, it isn’t unusual for weekly figures to be affected by anomalies near holidays.
The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths sometimes volatile weekly data, fell by 1,750 to 261,250.
More broadly, jobless claims touched a four-decade low in April and have hovered modestly above the level for most of the spring and summer. The figure has been below 300,000 for 79 consecutive weeks, the longest such stretch since 1970, when the U.S. population was far smaller.
A low level of claims has historically coincided with steady hiring. This year, claims have remained very low, while the pace of job creation eased. Employers have added jobs at a monthly pace of 182,000 so far this year, a slowdown from 2014 and 2015, the best two years for job creation since 1999.
In August, employers added 151,000 jobs to payrolls compared with more than 270,000 jobs added in each of the previous two months. The unemployment rate remained near a postrecession low at 4.9% in August.
Federal Reserve officials are closely monitoring the labor market as they consider whether to increase the central bank’s benchmark interest rate later this month.
“In the context of a strong economy with good momentum, it makes sense to get back to a pace of gradual rate increases, preferably sooner rather than later,” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President John Williams said Tuesday.
Several private economists said the August slowdown in job creation would cause the Fed to put off a rate increase at least until December.
Thursday’s report showed continuing unemployment claims, which track workers drawing benefits for more than one week, fell by 7,000 to 2,144,000 in the week ended Aug. 27. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag. Continuing claims are modestly below the level recorded a year earlier.