More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week but the number of applications remained low, the latest sign that layoffs are scarce.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 254,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked down to 256,000, matching a 43-year low first reached in April.
The economy is expanding at a sluggish pace, growing just 1.4 percent in the April-June quarter. But businesses are hiring steadily and holding tightly to their staffs. With the unemployment rate low at 4.9 percent, many employers say they can't find qualified workers for open positions. That makes them reluctant to cut jobs.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Any figure below 300,000 is a sign of a healthy job market.