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Feb 16, 8:54 AM EST

Applications for unemployment benefits edge up 5,000


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AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week but still remained at a level indicating a healthy job market.

THE NUMBERS: Claims for unemployment benefits rose by 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 239,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The increase came after claims had dropped to 234,000 the previous week, the second lowest reading in the past year. The less-volatile four-week average edged up a slight 500 applications to 245,250. That marks 102 consecutive weeks in which claims applications have been below the key threshold of 300,000, the longest stretch since 1970.

THE TAKEAWAY: Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs. The low level for claim applications suggests that employers remain confident enough in the economy to be focusing on hiring new workers and retaining the employees they have.

KEY DRIVERS: Employers added 227,000 jobs in January as the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4.8 percent, still in line with the level that the Federal Reserve views as indicating full employment. The jobless rate rose in January largely because more people entered the labor market to look for work.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen delivered the Fed's semiannual economic report to Congress this week. She indicated Fed officials believe the central bank is close to achieving its goals of maximum employment and inflation rising at a modest annual rate of 2 percent.

She noted in her testimony that at the December meeting Fed officials expected to raise rates three times this year. Many private economists believe the first of those increases will not occur until June, giving the Fed more time to assess the potential impact President Donald Trump's stimulus program of tax cuts and infrastructure spending will have on the economy.

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