US filings for jobless aid climbed to 282,000 last week; but job market still looks healthy

WASHINGTON – Applications for U.S. jobless aid climbed last week, but the number of Americans seeking benefits remains close to historic lows in a positive sign for the job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for jobless aid rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less volatile four-week average was 270,750.

The weekly filings have stayed near historic lows for the past nine months. Applications below 300,000 usually correspond with net monthly job gains in excess of 200,000.

THE TAKEAWAY: The low numbers point to a solid environment for hiring, suggesting that employers are holding onto workers and potentially looking to add staff on the expectation of further growth.

KEY DRIVERS: More Americans have returned to work during the past three years, as the economy has slowly recovered from the Great Recession. The influx has enabled the economy to grow at a moderate pace of roughly 2 per cent a year, enough for employers to retain their workers and steadily expand their payrolls.

BIG PICTURE: Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs, so the low level indicates that job growth will continue. The economy added roughly 211,000 jobs in the November and 298,000 in October, the government said last week. The unemployment rate has held at 5 per cent. Monthly job growth has averaged more than 200,000 so far this year, enough to lower the unemployment rate over time.