US applications for jobless claims hold at healthy levels

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U.S. applications for jobless benefits were unchanged last week, settling at a healthy level as the labor market continues to show strength in the face of elevated interest rates.

Unemployment claims for the week ending March 2 were 217,000, matching the previous week’s revised level, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure, fell by 750 from the previous week to 212,250.

Weekly unemployment claims are broadly viewed as representative of the number of U.S. layoffs in a given week. They have remained at historically low levels since the pandemic purge of millions of jobs in the spring of 2020.

In total, 1.9 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits during the week that ended Feb. 24, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week and the most since November.

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark borrowing rate 11 times beginning in March of 2022 in an effort to bring down the four-decade high inflation that took hold after the economy roared back from the COVID-19 recession of 2020. Part of the Fed’s goal was to loosen the labor market and cool wage growth, which it believes contributed to persistently high inflation.

Many economists thought the rapid rate hikes could potentially tip the country into recession, but that hasn’t happened. Jobs have remained plentiful and the economy has held up better than expected thanks to strong consumer spending.

U.S. employers delivered a stunning burst of hiring to begin 2024, adding 353,000 jobs in January in the latest sign of the economy’s continuing ability to shrug off the highest interest rates in two decades.

The unemployment rate is 3.7%, and has been below 4% for 24 straight months, the longest such streak since the 1960s.

The Labor Department issues its February jobs report on Friday.

Though layoffs remain at low levels, there has been an uptick in job cuts recently, mostly across technology and media. Google parent company Alphabet, eBay, TikTok, Snap, and Cisco Systems and the Los Angeles Times have all recently announced layoffs.

Outside of tech and media, UPS, Macy’s and Levi’s also recently cut jobs.