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The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, hitting its lowest level in nearly 49 years and pointing to robust labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 204,000 for the week ended Sept. 8, the lowest level since December 1969, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 210,000 in the latest week. The claims data covered last Monday's Labor Day holiday. Claims tend to be volatile around public holidays.
The Labor Department said only claims for Maine were estimated last week. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 2,000 last week to 208,000, also the lowest level since December 1969.
The labor market is viewed as being near or at full employment. It continues to strengthen, with nonfarm payrolls increasing by 201,000 jobs in August and annual wage growth notching its biggest gain in more than nine years. Job openings hit an all-time high of 6.9 million in July.
The Federal Reserve's Beige Book report, which was published on Wednesday, described the labor market as "tight throughout the country, with most districts reporting widespread shortages."
Though there have been reports of some companies either planning job cuts or laying off workers because of trade tensions between the United States and its major trade partners, they have been partially offset by increased hiring in the steel industry.
Economists, however, warn of widespread job losses if the Trump administration presses ahead with tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports. President Donald Trump last week threatened duties on another $267 billion worth of Chinese goods on top of a $200 billion tariff list that is awaiting his decision.
Washington has already slapped duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, provoking retaliation from Beijing. The United States has also engaged in tit-for-tat tariffs with other trade partners, including the European Union, Canada and Mexico.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 15,000 to 1.70 million for the week ended Sept. 1, the lowest level since December 1973. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims decreased 8,250 to 1.71 million, the lowest level since November 1973.