A hiring sign is displayed outside of a retail store...

A hiring sign is displayed outside of a retail store in Schaumburg, Ill., Tuesday, Dec.12, 2023. On Thursday, the Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh

The number of Americans filing for jobless benefits fell last week as the labor market continues to thrive despite high interest rates and elevated costs.

Applications for unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 to 202,000 for the week ending Dec. 9, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Analysts were expecting around 224,000.

About 1.88 million people were collecting unemployment benefits the week that ended Dec. 2, 20,000 more than the previous week.

Jobless claim applications are seen as representative of the number of layoffs in a given week.

On Wednesday, The Federal Reserve kept its key interest rate unchanged for a third straight time, and its officials signaled that they expect to make three quarter-point cuts to their benchmark rate next year.

The Fed’s message Wednesday strongly suggested that it is finished with rate hikes and is edging closer to cutting rates as early as next summer.

The Fed raised its benchmark interest rate 11 times since March 2022 to slow the economy and rein in inflation that hit a four-decade high last year. The job market and economic growth remained surprisingly resilient, defying predictions that the economy would slip into a recession this year.

Hiring has slowed from the breakneck pace of 2021 and 2022 when the economy rebounded from the COVID-19 recession. Employers added a record 606,000 jobs a month in 2021 and nearly 400,000 per month last year. That has slowed to an average of 232,000 jobs per month this year, a still-solid number.

U.S. employers added a healthy 199,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 3.7%, fresh signs that the economy could achieve an elusive “soft landing,” in which inflation would return to the Federal Reserve’s 2% target without causing a steep recession.

The jobless rate has now remained below 4% for nearly two years, the longest such streak since the late 1960s.

The four-week moving average of jobless claim applications — which flattens out some of weekly volatility — fell by 7,750 to 213,250.

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