WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week, a sign that layoffs are rare and the job market is strong.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid fell 19,000 to 234,000, a low level that indicates businesses are holding onto their employees. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, rose to 224,750.
Businesses are hiring at a healthy pace that has surprised economists, who expected job gains would slow as the number of unemployed dwindled. The jobless rate stood at just 4 percent last month, when employers added 304,000 jobs, the most in nearly a year. With labor scarce, many companies are reluctant to let workers go, likely because they fear it will be hard to replace them.