Filing for jobless benefits falls to 6-month low

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THE number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to near a six-month low last week, pointing to a further tightening in the labor market that could encourage the Federal Reserve to lay out a plan to start unwinding its massive bond portfolio.

Labor market strength was corroborated by other data yesterday showing manufacturers in the mid-Atlantic region sharply increased hours for workers in August amid a jump in new orders and unfilled orders.

Initial claims for state jobless benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 232,000 for the week ended August 12, the Labor Department said.

That was the lowest level since the week ended February 25 when claims fell to 227,000, which was the best reading since March 1973. Data for the prior week was unrevised.

It was the 128th week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a robust labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The jobless rate is 4.3 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 240,000 in the latest week. A Labor Department official said there were no special factors influencing the claims data and that no states had been estimated.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 500 to 240,500 last week.

Last week’s claims data covered the survey week for the August nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 3,500 between the July and August survey periods, suggesting another month of solid job growth.

Payrolls increased by 209,000 jobs in July. The economy has added 1.29 million jobs this year and the unemployment rate has fallen five-tenths of a percentage point.

Labor market tightness has, however, failed to generate strong wage growth, contributing to inflation consistently below the Fed’s 2 percent target.

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