The FINANCIAL — The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose slightly last week but remained historically low, suggesting the labor market continues to firm, according to Nasdaq.
Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., increased 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 277,000 in the week ended Aug. 15, the Labor Department said on August 20. Claims have risen for four consecutive weeks.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 272,000 claims.
The agency revised the prior week’s figure to 273,000 claims from an initially reported 274,000.
Claims data are volatile week to week. Over a longer period, applications for jobless benefits are exceptionally low. The four-week moving average of claims, which removes volatility, climbed 5,500 to 271,500 last week, still hovering near a 15-year low.
Layoffs occur even in a healthy labor market. When they are below a certain threshold—400,000 according to many economists’ rule of thumb—it is a sign the labor market is stable. Claims lower than that often indicate the economy is adding jobs.
The economy created 215,000 jobs in July and has added an average 235,000 over the past three months. The unemployment rate stands at 5.3%. Job openings remain relatively high, suggesting employers continue to expand.
The gains could reassure Federal Reserve officials as they debate when and how quickly to raise short-term interest rates, which have been pinned near zero since the recession. Most economists expect the central bank to start to raise rates at its September policy meeting.
Thursday’s report showed the number of continuing unemployment benefit claims—those drawn by workers for more than a week—declined 24,000 to 2,254,000 in the week ended Aug. 8. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.