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WASHINGTON: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell moderately last week, still suggesting that April was another month of strong job growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 184,000 for the week ended April 16, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 180,000 applications for the latest week.

An acute shortage of workers is keeping layoffs low. The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, based on information collected on or before April 11 from the US central bank’s contacts, showed on Wednesday that “demand for workers continued to be strong across most districts and industry sectors,” but noted “hiring was held back by the overall lack of available workers.”

US existing home sales fall; house prices hit record high

There were a near record 11.3 million job openings at the end of February. The unemployment rate is at 3.6%, just one-tenth of a percentage point above its pre-pandemic level. Worker shortages are forcing employers to boost wages, contributing to high inflation.

The Fed in March raised its policy interest rate by 25 basis points, the first rate hike in more than three years. Economists expect a half-percentage-point rate increase next month, and for the Fed to soon start trimming its asset holdings.

Claims, which have dropped from a record high of 6.137 million in early April 2020, will be closely watched for signs of whether rising borrowing costs are curbing demand.

Last week’s claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed business establishments for the nonfarm payrolls component of April’s employment report. Claims rose moderately between the March and April payrolls survey periods.

Economists are expecting strong employment growth in April. Payrolls increased by 431,000 jobs in March, marking the 11th straight month of employment gains in excess of 400,000.

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