NEW YORK - New claims for US jobless benefits rose slightly in mid-April but the total number of people seeking unemployment insurance hit a 17-year low, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The figures confirmed the long-running downward trend in workers seeking unemployment insurance, which has persisted at record low levels amid an increasingly tight labor market.
For the week ended April 15, new applications for unemployment benefits rose 10,000 from the prior week to 244,000, seasonally adjusted. An analyst forecast had called for an increase of 8,000 new claims.
The weekly claims figure has stayed below 300,000 for more than two years, the longest streak below that level since 1970.
The less volatile four-week average fell to 243,000, down 4,250 from the week before.
Meanwhile, continuing claims for unemployment insurance, the overall number of people receiving jobless benefits, fell to 1.979 million, a drop of 49,000 from the prior week and the lowest level for this measure since April 2000.
Though the initial claims figures see large swings from week to week, they can help measure the prevalence of layoffs and the health of jobs markets.
With the jobless rate at 4.5 percent, economists say the US economy is approaching full employment, with companies likely to forgo layoffs, fearing they may not be able to replace the workers they dismiss.
The Federal Reserve survey Wednesday said employers are having difficulty filling vacancies, even for low-skill work, and some are increasing wages and benefits.