The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to near a 43-year low, amid a further tightening of the labor market that could eventually spur faster wage growth.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 for the week ended Feb. 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That left claims just shy of the 43-year low of 233,000 touched in early November.
Claims have now remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strong labor market, for 101 straight weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.
The labor market is at or close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at 4.8 percent. It hit a nine-year low of 4.6 percent in November.
Further tightening in labor market conditions could boost wage growth, which has remained stubbornly sluggish despite anecdotal evidence of more companies struggling to find qualified workers.
Lackluster wage growth, if sustained, could hurt consumer spending and crimp economic growth. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 250,000 in the latest week.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week’s data and no states had been estimated.
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