New applications for unemployment benefits fell 3,000 to 247,000 in the first week of July, the Department of Labor reported Thursday morning.

Forecasters in the private sector had expected jobless claims to drift down slightly to 246,000.

Low claims are a good sign. If fewer people are applying for unemployment benefits at state agencies, it suggests that layoffs are rare and job creation is good. Federal Reserve officials and investors use the jobless claims numbers because they are released weekly.

Thursday's report is another sign that the jobs market is still heating up.

Altogether, there were 1.95 million people receiving benefits of all durations to start July. Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks in most states.

The total number of continuing claims hasn't hit the 2 million mark in 12 weeks. That's the longest such streak since the end of 1973 and the beginning of 1974, when the U.S. workforce was much smaller.

The fact that unemployment benefits are so low is a hint that layoffs are increasingly rare. Or, in some cases, laid-off workers are seeing such good job prospects that they aren't even bothering to show up to apply for benefits.