WASHINGTON — The number of
Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week, a
sign that layoffs are rare and the job market is strong.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid fell
19,000 to 234,000, a low level that indicates businesses are holding
onto employees. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The four-week
average, a less volatile figure, rose to 224,750.
Businesses are hiring at a pace that has surprised economists, who
expected job gains would slow as the number of unemployed dwindled.
The jobless rate stood at just 4 percent last month, when employers
added 304,000 jobs, the most in nearly a year.
The 35-day partial government shutdown likely sliced growth in the
first quarter by roughly 0.3 percentage points at an annual rate,