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Apr 20, 2:30 PM EDT

Applications for US jobless aid rise but remain at low level

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, yet total applications remained at a historically low level that suggests workers are enjoying solid job security.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 243,000.

The number of Americans seeking benefits dropped 49,000 to 1.98 million, the fewest since April 2000. That figure has declined 7.7 percent in the past year.

THE TAKEAWAY: Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have been below the 300,000 benchmark for 111 weeks. That's the longest such streak since 1970.

The data adds to evidence that the job market is healthy, even as the economy is growing at a sluggish pace. Employers added an average of about 175,000 jobs a month from January through March. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.5 percent, the lowest in nearly a decade.

KEY DRIVERS: Many economists forecast that growth was just 1 percent or lower at an annual pace in the first three months of the year. Consumers appear to have pulled back on spending after healthy increases in last year's fourth quarter.

Yet growth should rebound in the April-June quarter, analysts say. Employers are confident about future demand and are posting open jobs. Many are struggling to find the qualified workers they need, according to a report from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday.

Many companies say they have had to raise pay to attract new employees, the Fed's "Beige Book" survey found.

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