Requests for US unemployment benefits rose to 277K last week, but still close to historic lows

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FILE- This May 2, 2012, file photo shows a sign advertising job openings outside a McDonalds restaurant in Chesterland, Ohio. The U.S. Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits the week ending Sept. 27, 2015 on Thursday, Oct. 1. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

WASHINGTON — Applications for unemployment benefits rose last week, but Americans are seeking jobless aid at historically low levels consistent with a healthy job market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for jobless aid rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 277,000. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, declined to 270,750.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The low level of applications indicates that companies trust that the U.S. economy will continue to expand and will possibly boost hiring. The report indicates that employers have yet to be frightened off by the slowdown in China's economy and fierce sell-offs in the U.S. stock market.

"Filings at this level are incredibly low by historical standards," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. "In fact, there has not been a single weekly reading above 300,000 since February."

The drop in weekly applications has reduced the total number of people receiving benefits. There are 2.19 million Americans collecting jobless aid, the smallest total since November 2000.

Jobless claims averaging less than 300,000 a week have corresponded with net monthly job gains of roughly 200,000.

The government will issue its official jobs report for September on Friday. Economists forecast that report will show that employers added 206,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate held at 5.1 percent for the second straight

Employers have added an average of 221,000 jobs a month in the prior three months, a solid pace that drove the unemployment rate to a seven-year low.

A private survey by payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that employers added 200,000 jobs last month.

The job growth has steadied the economy as global pressures mount. Oil prices have remained below $50 a barrel amid weak demand from China and much of Europe. The stronger dollar has crimped exports, as U.S. goods have become more expensive for foreign buyers.

But the domestic economy has been insulated from much of this turmoil. The steady pace of hiring has contributed to rising consumer confidence and fueled stronger home sales and more residential construction this year. Developers have broken ground on 11 percent more homes in the first eight months of this year than at the same point in 2014.

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