Applications for unemployment benefits slipped last week

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, job applications and information for the Gap Factory Store sit on a table during a job fair at Dolphin Mall in Miami. Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week of Aug. 2016, another sign the U.S. job market remains healthy despite a downshift in hiring in August. The Labor Department says the number of applications for jobless aid slid by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 259,000, lowest since mid-July. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, another sign the U.S. job market remains healthy despite a downshift in hiring last month.

THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications for jobless aid slid by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 259,000, lowest since mid-July. Weekly claims have come in below 300,000 for 79 straight weeks, longest streak since 1970. The less volatile four-week average slipped by 1,750 last week to 261,250.

The number of people collecting unemployment checks has fallen more than 5 percent from a year ago to 2.14 million.

THE TAKEAWAY: Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The low level of applications suggests that companies are hanging on to staff and that job security remains solid for most U.S. workers.

KEY DRIVERS: The job market has stayed healthy even though economic growth has stalled since late last year.

The economy expanded at a lackluster annual pace of 1.1 percent from April through June after growing just 0.8 percent in the first quarter and 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. Employers added just 151,000 jobs last month, down from a monthly average of 204,000 over the past year. But unemployment remains low at 4.9 percent.

"The underlying reality appears to be a rock solid labor market, with firms having increasing difficulty filling openings," Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, wrote in a research note.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that job openings rose 4 percent in July but hiring blipped up just 1 percent. The disconnect suggests that many employers are struggling to find qualified workers.

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