Jobless Claims Decline; Nation’s Productivity Rate Slows

(CN) – Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign of job security, but the nation’s productivity rate is showing signs of slowing, the government said Thursday.

The U.S. Labor Department said claims for jobless benefits fell by 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 246,000.

Overall, 2.06 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, down more than 8 percent from a year ago.

Economists see unemployment claims as a gauge of employers’ beliefs about the job market. When they see it as tight — the conventional wisdom of the moment — they tend to hold onto the people they have and large-scale layoffs are few.

Weekly unemployment claims have now come in below 300,000 for 100 straight weeks, longest such streak since 1970.

The nation’s unemployment rate is now 4.7 percent, approaching  a nine-year low.

The Labor Department will release its jobs report for January on Friday.

Employers last year added about 180,000 jobs a month, down from a monthly average of 229,000 in 2015.

Economists expect the report to say the economy added about 175,000 jobs last month, and that the unemployment rate will once again come in at 4.7 percent.

In other news, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday said the productivity of workers across the U.S. rose in the fourth quarter of 2016, but at a slower pace than the previous quarter.

Productivity climbed at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter, weaker than 3.5 percent productivity growth in the July-September period, the department said.

At the same time, labor costs rose at a rate of 1.7 percent rate, up from a 0.2 percent gain in the third quarter.

For the year, productivity rose a tiny 0.2 percent — the worst showing in five years.

The numbers were expected given the government’s conclusion last week that the nation’s gross domestic product slowed in the fourth quarter.

The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the final three months of the year, compared to a 3.5 percent gain in the third quarter.