Applications for US jobless aid rise from recent 14-year low; still points to solid job gains

WASHINGTON – More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, but the increase wasn’t sharp enough to disrupt the job market’s positive momentum.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications rose 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 290,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 6,000 to 285,000, up slightly from what had the lowest average in more than 14 years.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The four-week average has plunged 17.2 per cent in the past year, a sign that businesses feel more confident about their prospects, are holding onto workers and potentially looking to amplify hiring.

Thursday’s report marked the ninth straight week of applications below 300,000. That level suggests to economists that the steady gains in jobs this year should continue.

Declining layoffs have been matched by a substantial increase in hiring. Employers added 214,000 jobs last month as the unemployment rate slid to 5.8 per cent from 5.9 per cent, the Labor Department said last week.

Employers have added an average of 228,500 jobs a month in 2014, up from an average of 194,000 last year. Nearly as many new jobs have been created through the first 10 months of 2014 as in all of 2013.

But the job gains have yet to push up wages much, limiting the broader growth of the U.S. economy. Average hourly pay rose 3 cents in October to $24.57. That’s just 2 per cent above the average wage 12 months earlier and barely ahead of a 1.7 per cent inflation rate.