New applications for unemployment insurance benefits rose a mere 1,000 in the last full week of August to a still ultra-low 236,000, the Department of Labor reported Thursday in an encouraging sign for the jobs recovery.
The numbers were right in line with forecasters' expectations, which were for new claims to inch up to 237,000.
Jobless claims as low as the past few months' are a good sign for the economy. If few people are showing up at state unemployment agencies to collect benefits, it suggests that layoffs are rare, or that job opportunities are so plentiful that laid-off workers aren't bothering with unemployment insurance before finding new positions.
New claims below the 300,000 mark indicate that unemployment will hold steady or drop, economists calculate.
Since the unemployment rate is already at the lowest levels since 2001, at 4.3 percent, that's good news for the ongoing recovery. Forecasters expected, before Thursday's report, that the unemployment rate would hold steady amid robust job growth in the August jobs report set for release Friday.
"The reality is the labor market cannot be pushed any tighter and that labor is in short supply especially for skilled workers," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for MUFG.
Meanwhile, the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits, which are available for up to 26 weeks in most states, was 1.94 million, below 2 million for the 19th straight week. That is a hot streak not seen since the end of 1973 and early 1974, when the labor force was much smaller and Richard Nixon was president.
Thursday's report, however, might be the best for the short-term. Economists expect that the effects of Hurricane Harvey on Houston and the Gulf Coast will mean elevated claims for weeks.