December 27, 2018 11:00 AM, EST

Jobless Claims Fall to 216,000, Showing Tight Labor Market

Job seekers at a career fair in New YorkJob seekers at a career fair in New York. (Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg)

U.S. filings for unemployment benefits decreased for the third time in four weeks, hovering near an almost five-decade low that reflects a robust job market.

Jobless claims fell by 1,000 to 216,000 in the week ended Dec. 22, matching the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists and following a revised reading of 217,000 for the prior week, Labor Department figures showed Dec. 27. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, fell to a six-week low.

Employers continue to hold onto existing workers and are reluctant to fire staff, one reason why applications for unemployment benefits are still near historically low levels. The trend for jobless claims is in line with other data showing strong demand for workers. That’s helping to support consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, at a time the trade war with China is clouding the outlook for businesses.

Continuing claims, which are reported with a one-week lag, dropped by 4,000 to 1.7 million in the week ended Dec. 15. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.2% for a third straight week. Claims for California, Kansas, Texas and Virginia were estimated last week, according to the Labor Department. While the weekly data tend to be volatile, economists watch these figures for a timely read on the labor market’s health.