WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labor market remains on solid footing even as hiring is slowing in tandem with a moderation in economic growth.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 210,000 for the week ended Oct. 5, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged at 219,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for Nebraska were estimated last week.
Claims had risen for three straight weeks. Some of the increase in claims could have been the result of an ongoing strike by about 50,000 workers at General Motors (N:GM).
While striking workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits, the work stoppage has affected production, impacting non-striking employees at suppliers.
Despite the low layoffs, the labor market is slowing as demand for labor cools against the backdrop of a step down in economic growth.
Some of the loss in economic momentum is because of a 15-month trade war between the United States and China, which has weighed on business confidence and pushed manufacturing into recession. The fading stimulus from last year's $1.5 trillion tax cut package is also restraining growth.
Job openings fell to a 1-1/2-year low in August, the government reported on Wednesday.
The report came on the heels of data last week showing nonfarm payrolls rose by 136,000 jobs in September, down from 168,000 in August. The three-month average gain in private employment fell to 119,000, the smallest since July 2012, from 135,000 in August.
Job growth has averaged 161,000 per month this year, compared to a monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018. Job gains remain above the roughly 100,000 per month needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate fell to near a 50-year low of 3.5% in September from 3.7% in August.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 1,000 to 213,750 last week.
The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 29,000 to 1.68 million for the week ended Sept. 28. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 2,500 to 1.67 million.