WASHINGTON — Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, as jobless claims remain at relatively low levels that point toward stronger economic growth.
Weekly applications for unemployment aid fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The prior week's was revised up slightly to 303,000.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 4,000 to 293,500. That's the lowest average since February 2006, almost two years before the Great Recession began at the end of 2007.
"It does suggest that the labor market has shifted to a higher gear," said Xiao Cui, an analyst with the bank Credit Suisse.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it can indicate potentially rising incomes, increased hiring activity and confidence that the economy is improving.
Employers added a net total of 209,000 jobs in July, the sixth straight month of job gains above 200,000, the government reported Friday.
The recent spurt of hiring has encouraged more people to start looking for work, causing the unemployment rate to inch up to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent. The government only counts people searching for jobs as unemployed.
Still, greater job security and more hiring activity have yet to boost wages by much. Wage growth has slightly outpaced inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago.
But more people with jobs increases the total number of paychecks, which could boost consumer spending and growth.