Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, the government reported Thursday, indicating that companies continue to hire at a modest but steady pace.
The Labor Department said weekly jobless claims fell 5,000 to 366,000. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor-market trends, fell to 350,500, the lowest level in five years. The four-week average has fallen almost 6 percent in the last six months.
Jobless claims are a gauge of layoffs. When layoffs decline, net hiring typically rises. U.S. employers added an average of 200,000 jobs per month from November through January. Still, the unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage point in January to 7.9 percent.
Overall, almost 5.6 million people received unemployment benefits last week, about 325,000 fewer than the previous week. It is also less than half the number of unemployed, which stood at 12.3 million last month. Many of the unemployed have exhausted their eligibility for benefits.