The total number of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits fell to 1.89 million at the end of September, the Department of Labor reported Thursday, the lowest such mark in nearly 44 years.
And new claims for unemployment benefits dropped 15,000 to 243,000 in the first full week of October, according to the agency, as the job market bounces back from hurricane damage even faster than forecasters expected.
Low new jobless claims are a good sign. They indicate that layoffs are rare, and accordingly that job creation is strong.
Unemployment benefits are available for up to 26 weeks in most states. Fewer people are now receiving benefits of all duration than at any time since December of 1973, when the total workforce was much smaller. That is a reflection of the strength of the jobs market, and the availability of new positions for laid-off workers.
Prior to the landfall of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, claims had been running at ultra-low rates. With Texas and Florida now recovering, new claims again appear to be sinking to levels that indicate robust job creation. First-time claims in the states most affected by the storms are still high, but have fallen in recent weeks.
"The data suggest that payrolls will bounce back quickly after last month's hurricane-related weakness and that the underlying trend in employment growth remains strong -- more than strong enough to keep the unemployment rate declining," noted Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist for High-Frequency Economics.
Economists calculate that new claims below the 300,000 mark indicate that unemployment will remain stable or fall.
Good claims numbers, which are released weekly, are one of the factors that will reassure officials in the Trump administration and at the Federal Reserve that the jobs recovery is intact, even though the hurricanes generated net job losses in September.
Minutes from the Fed's September monetary policy meeting, released Wednesday, suggested that the central bank still sees the economy as healthy enough to justify raising rates again this year.