U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly fall to lowest since November

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(Bloomberg) — Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. unexpectedly declined last week to an almost three-month low, echoing a vibrant job market.

Jobless claims fell by 12,000 to 234,000 in the week ended Feb. 4, a report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 249,000. The average number of applications filed over the past four weeks reached the lowest point since 1973.

The latest results extend a trend of historically low claims, with applications staying below 300,000 in the longest streak since 1970. A shortage of skilled workers is prompting companies to hold on to existing employees while continuing to add more workers to help fulfill demand.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for initial jobless claims ranged from 235,000 to 260,000. The previous week was unrevised at 246,000.

The four-week moving average decreased to 244,250, the lowest since the period ended Nov. 3, 1973, from 248,000.

No states estimated jobless claims last week, and there was nothing unusual in the figures, according to the Labor Department.

The latest tally marks 101 straight weeks of claims below 300,000, the level economists consider consistent with a healthy labor market. The 161-week period that ended in April 1970 was the longest such streak in records back to 1967.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 15,000 to 2.08 million in the week ended Jan. 28. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.5%. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

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