Labor Market Tightening as Mid-Atlantic Factory Activity Cools

New applications for U.S. jobless benefits rose slightly more than expected last week, but a drop in the number of Americans on unemployment rolls to a 17-year low suggested the labor market continues to tighten.

The labor market’s strength was underscored by other data on Thursday showing manufacturers in the mid-Atlantic region hired more workers this month and increased working hours, even as factory activity slowed from March’s brisk pace.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000 for the week ended April 15, the Labor Department said. The increase followed three straight weeks of declines.

Given that the labor market is near full employment with a 4.5 percent jobless rate and companies are reporting difficulties finding skilled workers, some economists see limited scope for claims to fall further.

“Layoffs remain low and employers feel no need to aggressively trim their payrolls. As labor market

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