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Jan. 16, 2020, 9:41 a.m. EST

New jobless claims fall 5th straight week to 204,000 in sign of strong U.S. labor market

Layoffs in the U.S. remain near a 50-year low at the start of 2020

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By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch

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Unemployment in the U.S. is at a 50-year low.

The numbers: The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early January fell for the fifth week in a row, giving a clean bill of health to strong U.S. labor market as 2020 got underway.

Initial jobless claims declined by 10,000 to 204,000 in the seven days ended Jan 11, the government said Thursday. The figures are seasonally adjusted.

Economists polled by MarketWatch predicted a 220,000 reading.

Unemployment claims are seen as a rough measure of how many people are losing their jobs. They fell to a 50-year low of 193,000 last April and have mostly hovered in the low 200,000s since then.

Read: What American consumers paid more for in 2019 — and what cost less

What happened: Some companies have reduced employment in the past few months, mainly in manufacturing, energy and transportation, but layoffs are still extremely low throughout the economy.

New claims soared last week in California and also rose sharply in Texas and Missouri, but those increases were more than offset by big declines in New York, Wisconsin and South Carolina.

The monthly average of new claims, meanwhile, dropped to 216,250 from 224,000. The four-week average filters out some of the weekly ups and downs in claims.

The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, decreased by 37,000 to 1.77 million. Last week it hit the highest level since April.

Read: Happy New Year! The U.S. economy has entered 2020 ‘with a little more zip’

Big picture: Despite scattered reports of jobs cuts, many companies are still hiring and few are laying off employees. The economy added 145,000 new jobs in December, keeping the unemployment rate at 50-year low of 3.5%.

A sturdy labor market, low U.S. interest rates and easing trade tensions with China are likely to extend an economic expansion now in a record 11th year through the end of 2020, analysts say.

Read: Why the Trump White House might end media sneak peeks for big economic reports

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.20% and S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.83% rose in Thursday trades. Stocks have hit fresh records this week in the wake of partial U.S.-China trade truce.

The 10-year Treasury yield /zigman2/quotes/211347051/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD10Y +4.65% rose to 1.81%.

US : Dow Jones Global
+329.04 +1.20%
Volume: 455.15M
Sept. 30, 2020 5:20p
+27.53 +0.83%
Volume: 2.62B
Sept. 30, 2020 5:20p
add Add to watchlist BX:TMUBMUSD10Y
BX : Tullett Prebon
+0.03 +4.65%
Volume: 0.00
Sept. 30, 2020 4:57p

Jeffry Bartash is a reporter for MarketWatch in Washington.

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