U.S. Jobless Claims at Lowest Level Since 1973

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A job seeker filling out an application at a job fair in Miami Lakes, Fla., in January.

WASHINGTON—The number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since 1973, signaling continued health in the labor market.

Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., fell by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 215,000 in the week ended March 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. This marked the lowest level for claims since they hit 214,000 in January 1973.

“When adjusted for population growth, claims have never been lower, signaling that the bar for firms to let people go is now very high,” wrote

Ian Shepherdson,

chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients.

Weekly jobless claims have held below 300,000 for about three years, the longest streak since 1970—when the U.S. population was far smaller than it is today.

The low level of claims is among multiple signs of health in the U.S. labor market. The unemployment rate has held at 4.1% since October, its lowest level since December 2000. Nonfarm employers added a robust 313,000 jobs in February, and wages are rising modestly.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a more-stable measure because it smooths out weekly volatility in the data, fell by 500 to 224,500 last week.

Thursday’s report showed the number of claims workers made for longer than a week rose by 35,000 to 1,871,000 in the week ended March 17. That figure, known as continuing claims, is reported with a one-week lag.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims decreased to 1,861,500, the lowest level for the average since January 1974.

Write to Sarah Chaney at sarah.chaney@wsj.com and Harriet Torry at harriet.torry@wsj.com

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