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U.S. unemployment claims fall to the lowest in 44 years

U.S. unemployment claims fall to the lowest in 44 years
People wait in line at a job fair in Florida. (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since Richard Nixon was president.

The Labor Department said Thursday that claims for jobless aid dropped by 22,000 to 222,000, the fewest since March 1973. The less volatile four-week average slid by 9,500 to 248,250, the lowest since late August.

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The overall number of Americans collecting unemployment checks dropped to 1.89 million, the lowest since December 1973 and down nearly 9% from a year ago.

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The low level suggests that employers are confident enough in the economy to hold on to workers.

The unemployment rate last month hit a 16-year low of 4.2%. Employers cut 33,000 jobs in September — the first monthly drop in nearly seven years — but only because Hurricanes Harvey and Irma rattled the economies of Texas and Florida; hiring is expected to bounce back.

The economic effect of Harvey and Irma is fading; claims dropped in Texas and Florida as more people returned to work. But the Labor Department said that Hurricanes Irma and Maria have disrupted the ability of people to file claims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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