By Eric Morath

WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans who applied for first-time unemployment benefits rose last week from near a four-decade low, but the figure remains at a level indicating steady job creation.

Initial jobless claims, a measure of how many workers were laid off, increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 247,000 in the week ended Jan. 7, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 255,000 initial claims.

Claims for the prior week were revised up by 2,000 to 237,000. That was still the second-lowest reading since 1973.

The data indicates layoffs remain subdued despite recent announcements from Macy's Inc., Sears Holdings Inc. and other large employers that they are reducing staff.

"Jobless claims remain in a very constructive range and are still evidence of an environment in which turnover is low and employers are generally content to maintain and expand their payrolls," said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors.

Swings in claims data around holidays aren't unusual. During those periods, jobless claims figures can be difficult to seasonally adjust due to calendar variations. Unadjusted data shows that claims typically peak during the first few weeks of the year. Labor Department economists reported no special factors that may have distorted the latest week's data.

The four-week moving average of adjusted claims, which evens out weekly volatility in the data, fell by 1,750 to 256,500 last week.

Initial jobless claims fell fairly steadily since reaching a peak in 2009, during the final months of the recession, until last year, when they plateaued near the lowest levels since the 1970s.

Claims have held below the 300,000 mark for 97 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1970. A low level of layoffs typically coincides with hiring.

U.S. employers have added jobs for 75 straight months, through December. That is the longest streak since at least 1939.

The rate of job growth did slow last year, as the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in about a decade and wage gains showed signs of improving. Those could be indications the economy is nearing full employment, or the point where nearly all workers who are seeking a job have found one.

Thursday's report also showed continuing unemployment claims, reflecting benefits drawn by workers for longer than a week, decreased 29,000 to 2,087,000 in the week ended Dec. 31. Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 12, 2017 10:23 ET (15:23 GMT)

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