U.S. Jobless Claims Fell Last Week to Near 45-Year Low

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WASHINGTON—The number of Americans filing applications for new unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly 45 years, a sign the labor market is beginning 2018 with strong momentum.

Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 220,000 in the week ended Jan. 13, the Labor Department said Thursday. This marked the lowest level for claims since February 1973.

Last week’s drop comes after four consecutive weeks of increases.

”This is a correction after a run of elevated numbers, due to seasonal adjustment problems over the holidays and into the new year. Claims should bounce back above 230,000 next week, and then revert to the trend,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients.

Claims have remained historically low, showing the overall health of the labor market. Claims numbers have remained below 300,000 a week for almost three years—the longest such streak since 1970, when the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller than they are today.

Jobless claims data can be volatile, especially around holidays; Monday was a federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Several states submitted estimates last week, including Arkansas, California and Virginia,

The four-week moving average, a steadier measure, fell by 6,250 to 244,500 last week.

The number of claims workers made for longer than a week rose by 76,000 to 1.952 million in the week ended Jan. 6. Continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.

The unemployment rate was 4.1% in December, holding at a 17-year low, and analysts say the job market could further tighten this year, potentially tugging the unemployment rate below 4%.

Write to Sarah Chaney at sarah.chaney@wsj.com

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