By Paul Wiseman
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, a level consistent with solid job growth.
The less volatile four-week average ticked down just 500 to 339,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s close to the five-year low of 338,000 reached during the first week of May. The four-week average is 9 percent lower than in November.
“The underlying story in jobless claims continues to be one of gradual improvement,” Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research report.
Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The decline in claims has coincided with steady job growth over the past six months. Since November, employers have added an average 208,000 jobs a month. That’s up from just 138,000 jobs a month during the previous six months.
Still, much of the improvement has come from fewer layoffs, not robust hiring. Employers laid off just 1.7 million workers in March, only slightly above the 12-year low reached in January. Overall hiring, however, remains far below pre-recession levels.
More than 4.7 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits the week that ended May 4, down 23 percent from nearly 6.2 million a year earlier.
The United States still has 2.6 million fewer jobs than it did when the recession began in December 2007.