WASHINGTON - The U.S. job market is getting stronger, according to Labor Department data published Thursday.
The number of Americans signing up for unemployment assistance fell by 10,000, to a nationwide total of 245,000. Experts say readings below 300,000 indicate a healthy job market, where layoffs are scarce and employers are trying to hang on to workers.
Layoffs have been below this key level now for 118 weeks, the longest such stretch since the early 1970s.
The U.S. unemployment rate is reported separately and stands at a low 4.3 percent. The economy had a net gain of 138,000 jobs in one month. The rate of hiring has slowed recently, as employers say they are having trouble finding people with the right skills.
Next week, leaders of the U.S. central bank will consider the job market and other aspects of the world's largest economy as they debate how soon and by how much to raise interest rates. The Federal Reserve is widely expected to boost the benchmark interest rate by one-quarter of one percent.