December 13, 2018 12:00 PM, EST

Jobless Claims Fall to 12-Week Low Amid Tight Labor Market

Job Fair Gabby Jones/Bloomberg News

U.S. filings for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest since September, returning to hover near an almost five-decade low and signaling the labor market remains tight after what some economists saw as possible cooling signs.

Jobless claims dropped to 206,000 in the week ended Dec. 8, below the 226,000 median estimate in Bloomberg’s survey of economists, Labor Department figures showed Dec. 13. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, decreased to 224,750.

The decline is consistent with a labor market that remains healthy despite adding fewer jobs than forecast in November. The unemployment rate held last month at the lowest since 1969, and job openings are near a record.

Jobless Claims Graph

Analysts caution that volatility around the holidays can make it difficult to gauge the underlying trend in jobless claims. Even so, it’s typically an early indicator of any changes in labor market conditions, as it offers a more up-to-date figure than monthly jobs data.

Applications for these benefits remain near historically low levels, indicating ongoing demand for workers. The latest figure is also below the five-year average of about 260,000. The 27,000 drop in claims from the prior week was the largest decline since April 2015, according to the Labor Department.