Unemployment applications climb to 18-week high

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WASHINGTON — The end of the holiday season led to more Americans seeking unemployment benefits last week, raising the number of applications to an 18-week high. Still, the level remains near historically low levels.

The Labor Department says applications for benefits jumped 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 316,000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 6,750 to 298,000. That average has plunged 11.4 percent in the past 12 months, staying at historically low sub-300,000 levels since September.

The longer-term trend suggests that employers expect solid economic growth to continue, causing them to hold onto their workers and possibly increase their headcounts.

The Labor Department reported last week that employers added 252,000 jobs in December as the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent.

JOSH BOAK, AP Economics Writer

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