By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell to a more than 49-year low last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength despite slowing economic growth.
Other data on Thursday showed U.S.-based companies announced fewer layoffs in March, but job cuts for the first quarter were the highest since 2015. The economy is losing momentum as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 202,000 for the week ended March 30, the lowest level since early December 1969, the Labor Department said. Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 216,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for California were estimated.
The claims data has shown no significant pickup in layoffs and there have been reports of companies reluctant to let go of workers amid a growing shortage of skilled labor. The scarcity of workers contributed to a recent slowdown in hiring.
Job growth has slowed from last year’s roughly 225,000 monthly average pace. The pace of increase, however, remains more than sufficient to keep up with growth in the working age population, holding down the unemployment rate.
U.S. Treasuries prices pared gains after the data, while the dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies.
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 4,000 to 213,500 last week, the lowest level since early October 2018.
The claims data has no bearing on March’s employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 180,000 jobs last month after a meager 20,000 in February, which was seen as pay-back after robust gains in the prior two months.
The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged at 3.8 percent.
A separate report on Thursday from global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed planned job cuts by U.S.-based employers dropped 21 percent to 60,587 in March.
However, layoffs in the first quarter jumped 10.3 percent to 190,410 from the last three months of 2018. That was the highest since the third quarter of 2015 and was partly blamed on “economic uncertainty and fears of an upcoming downturn.”
Retailers continued to lead job cuts, purging 46,061 positions in the first quarter. The automotive sector eliminated 8,838 jobs in March, leading to 15,887 layoffs by auto manufacturers and suppliers in the first quarter. Redundancies were also high in the energy and financial sectors.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)