Job seekers can still find work even with the economy slowing and companies not hiring as many workers.
The numbers: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell in mid-December after a post-Thanksgiving surge, returning closer to the extremely low level of layoffs that has prevailed over the past few years.
Initial jobless claims fell by 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 in the seven days ended Dec. 14, the government said Thursday.
New claims had jumped in early December to 252,000 to mark the highest level in more than two years. The increase stemmed from a late Thanksgiving holiday that skewed the government’s process for adjusting the numbers for seasonal swings in employment.
Economists polled by MarketWatch estimated new claims would total 235,000 in the seven days ended Dec. 7. Claims are seen as a rough measure of how many people are losing their jobs.
What happened: All the states with the biggest increases in actual or unadjusted jobless claims two weeks ago showed the biggest declines last week. They fell sharply in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Minnesota.
The one notable exception: California. If applications for benefits subside in the Golden State next week, the national jobless claims number could drop close to prior levels. New claims have averaged around 215,000 a week since last spring.
Jobless claims often gyrate during the long holiday season at the end of each year. Complicating matters was a later than usual U.S. Thanksgiving holiday that threw off the government’s seasonal adjustments.
The more stable monthly average of new claims, meanwhile, rose by 1,500 to 225,000.
The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, increased by 51,000 to 1.72 million.
Big picture: No surprises here. Economists had expected new claims to fall after the spike early in the month, sending them back toward post 2008 recession lows.
By most measures, the U.S. labor market is the strongest it’s been in decades. Hiring has slowed a bit from last year, but incomes are rising a healthy 3% a year and the unemployment rate sits at as 50-year low of 3.5%. Many companies say their biggest labor-related problem is finding skilled workers.
The 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, +0.37% edged up to 1.94%.