U.S. jobless claims fell to a 15-year low last week, as the number of Americans signing up for unemployment aid fell 34,000 to a nationwide total of 262,000.
Thursday's report from the Labor Department shows that's the lowest level of job layoffs since the year 2000.
Economists say weekly claims below 300,000 are evidence of an improving job market.
Last month's unemployment rate was 5.5. percent, and a report from Credit Suisse says the jobless rate will probably fall below 5 percent by the end of next year. The report's author says continued U.S. economic recovery could put another 2.5 million people back to work over the next two years.
U.S. unemployment rate, Jan. ‘04 – Mar. ‘15
A separate Labor Department study showed wages rising 2.6 percent from the same time a year ago, which is a bit faster than the rate that prices are going up.
Rising wages may have contributed to gains in consumer spending, which the Commerce Department says rose four-tenths of a percent in March. Experts watch consumer spending closely because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.