(CN) – In another good sign for the U.S. job market, the Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in nearly 50 years.
As of last week, applications for jobless aid fell to a seasonally adjusted 199,000 – the lowest mark since November 1969, according to the department’s report. The four-week average for unemployment applications dropped 5,500 last week to 215,000.
As the partial government shutdown drags on in its fifth week, the number of furloughed federal workers seeking jobless benefits more than doubled to 25,419, compared to the previous week. Those numbers aren’t included in the overall unemployment figures because they fall in a separate category.
The weekly tally of applications for unemployment aid is a reflection of layoffs. The lowest number of applications in 49 years suggests employers are generally confident about the economy and are able to keep their workers.
Economists predict, however, that the government shutdown will have an impact on the economy in the first few months of 2019.
Many think overall economic growth could slow to 1.5 or 2 percent in the first quarter, compared to 3.4 percent in the last three months of 2018. One White House economics adviser told CNN that GDP growth could even drop to zero if the shutdown continues through March.
The Labor Department is able to release its economic reports because it was funded before the shutdown and is still open.
Thursday’s report on unemployment benefits continues a trend of positive growth for the U.S. economy, despite fears over a trade war between the U.S. and China and a slowing global economy.
Employers beat expectations and added 312,000 jobs in December, the number of U.S. job openings still exceeds the number of unemployed Americans, and both wholesale and consumer prices dropped last month because of plummeting gas costs, a sign that inflation levels will stay flat in the near future.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has said the central bank can be “patient” with raising interest rates this year.
In other economic news, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average interest rate for 30-year mortgages in the U.S. has held steady at 4.45 percent for the second straight week. The rate is the lowest in nine months but still above the 4.15 percent average from this time last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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