Fewer Americans seek unemployment aid

WASHINGTON – The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, a sign that employers are laying off very few workers.

The Labor Department said Thursday the four-week average rose 8,000 to 356,250, the highest since April.

The 16-day partial government shutdown and backlogs in California due to computer upgrades inflated the average.

Still, a government spokesman said those unusual factors did not affect last week’s first-time applications, which appeared to be free of distortions for the first time in two months.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fallen for three straight weeks and are just above the pre-recession levels reached in August.

Fewer applications are typically followed by more job gains. But hiring has slowed in recent months, rather than accelerated.

The economy added an average 143,000 jobs a month from July through September. That’s down from an average of 182,000 in April through June, and 207,000 during the first three months of the year.