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Applications for unemployment benefits jump

More Americans requested unemployment benefits last week, but the level remains near historic lows, a positive sign for the job market.

Applications for jobless aid jumped 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less volatile four-week average climbed 4,500 to total 277,000.

Over the last 12 months, the number of people receiving benefits has fallen 7.1% to 2.2 million.

The influx of part-time, seasonal jobs during the winter holidays can make the jobless claims figures volatile, but the employment gains of the last year look likely to continue. Applications for benefits are a proxy for layoffs, so the low level indicates that employers are keeping their workers and potentially planning to hire.

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Businesses still view the U.S. economy as growing, although the manufacturing sector is struggling amid a broader global slowdown. Employers have hired about 210,000 workers a month this year. And unemployment last month held at a seven-year low of 5%.

Despite last week’s increase, jobless claims have stayed below the key level of 300,000 for nearly 10 months. Any figure lower than that threshold often corresponds with monthly job gains in excess of 200,000.

The economy enters 2016 with the job market looking solid. The slow recovery from the Great Recession that ended more than six years ago has found some traction. Americans have increased their purchases of autos, homes, restaurant meals and goods online. Still, low oil prices and weak international demand stemming from Europe, China and several emerging economies such as Brazil are sources of concern.

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