Feb 11, 8:39 AM EST

Applications for US jobless aid fell sharply last week


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AP Photo/Alan Diaz

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week in a sign of a stable job market despite the slowing global economy hitting stocks and commodities.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications for jobless aid fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 269,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined slightly to 281,250. The number of people receiving benefits has declined 4.6 percent to 2.2 million from a year ago.

THE TAKEAWAY: U.S. employers still appear to expecting the economy to grow - and a need for more workers. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The relatively low number suggests that companies are holding onto workers and possibly looking to hire more.

KEY DRIVERS: The domestic economy appears to have withstood the pressures created by a slowing Chinese economy, fragile growth in Europe and a meltdown in developing economies such as Brazil, Russia and Venezuela. U.S. consumers appear to be a critical source of strength. Retailers and restaurants accounted for roughly two-thirds of the net job gains last month, while wage growth has accelerated over the past year.

BIG PICTURE: The weekly jobless claims figure has remained beneath a key threshold of 300,000 for almost a full year, a level that usually corresponds with net monthly job gains of 200,000 or more. Still, the pace of hiring of slowed in January as employers added 151,000 jobs, down from robust gains of 262,000 in December and 280,000 in November.

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