WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week sank by 25,000 to 234,000, marking the second-lowest level of the current economic expansion and reflecting a tight labor market in which firms say it’s hard to find good help.
Economists polled by MarketWatch has expected initial jobless claims to total 251,000 in the seven days stretching from March 26 to April 1.
The bulk of the decline took place in the large states of California, New York and Pennsylvania, perhaps related to the timing of spring break, government data showed.
Still, new jobless claims in the U.S. have been under the key 300,000 threshold for 109 straight weeks, the second-longest stretch since the early 1970s.
The economy has added nearly a half-million jobs in the first two months of 2017, knocking the unemployment rate down to 4.7%. The employment report for March due on Friday is expected to show an increase of at least 178,000 new jobs, according to economists polled by MarketWatch.
After nearly seven years of strong employment growth, many companies say it’s harder to fill open jobs.
“Finding talent has been challenging,” an executive at a maker of transportation equipment said in a regular survey by the Institute of Supply Management.
“Worker shortages have become a real problem in food production and produce-growing areas,” one executive told ISM. “Service labor is tight,” said another executive at a government agency.
Meanwhile, the four-week average of initial claims, often a more stable look at recent trends in layoffs, dropped by 4,500 to 250,000. The monthly average is also extremely low.
Continuing jobless claims, or the number of people already collecting unemployment checks, fell by 24,000 to 2.03 million.
In premarket trades, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
was set to open slightly higher.