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Jul 20, 1:02 PM EDT

US weekly requests for jobless aid fall to 233,000

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer Americans applied for jobless aid last week, as the number of people seeking benefits stayed near historic lows, pointing to a robust job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly unemployment applications fell by 15,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 233,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since late April. The less volatile four-week average declined by 2,250 to 243,750. The number of people collecting unemployment benefits has fallen 9.7 percent over the past 12 months to 1.87 million.

THE TAKEAWAY: The job market appears solid as the U.S. enters its ninth year of recovery from the Great Recession. Employers are holding onto workers with the expectation that business will continue to improve. Jobless claims - a close indication of layoffs - have come in below 300,000 for 124 weeks in a row. That's the longest such stretch since 1970, when the U.S. population was much smaller.

KEY DRIVERS: After a weak start this year, the economy is expected to grow at roughly 2 percent. That would be roughly in line with annual gains during the recovery. Consistent hiring has helped sustain the gradual recovery, although the expansion is starting to show its age as the pace of job gains has slowed this year.

The unemployment rate has fallen to a healthy 4.4 percent. The Labor Department's report for June showed that U.S. employers added a robust 222,000 jobs, the most in four months and a reassuring sign that businesses may be confident enough to keep hiring despite a slow-growing economy.

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