Fewest Americans in 14 years filed jobless claims in past month

Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits over the past month than at any time in 14 years as an improving economy prompted employers to hold on to staff.

The four-week average of jobless claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, dropped to 281,000, the lowest since May 2000, from 284,000 the week before, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The reading for the week ended Oct. 18 climbed by 17,000 to 283,000, in line with the median forecast of 52 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Sustained demand for goods and services is encouraging companies to retain workers, even as economic growth slows abroad. As a result, firings have hovered near historically low levels while gains in payrolls also bolster total income, giving households the confidence and the means to spend.

“The labor market seems to be expanding pretty steadily and healthily,” David Sloan, senior economist at 4Cast. Inc. in New York, said before the report. The downtrend in claims “suggests things are gaining momentum into October.”

There was nothing unusual in the data and no states were estimated, a spokesman said as the figures were released.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 38,000 to 2.35 million in the week ended Oct. 11, the fewest since December 2000.

In that same period, the unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.8 percent, the report showed.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically decrease before job growth can accelerate.