WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but remained at historically low levels.

U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday jobless claims were up by 2,000 to 205,000 the week ending Dec. 16. The four-week average of claims, which balances week-to-week increases and decreases, fell by 1,500 to 212,000.

Overall, 1.87 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits the week that ended Dec. 9, little changed from the week before.

Weekly unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. They have remained at a low level in the face of high interest rates.

The unemployment rate has stayed below 4% for 22 straight months, the longest such streak since the 1960s. Hiring has slowed but remains healthy.

“The data continue to signal that layoffs remain low,’' said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S economist at High Frequency Economics. “However, demand for workers appears to be easing; job growth remains robust but has moderated, openings have moved lower ... That should help rebalance the labor market and take pressure off wages and prices, in line with (Fed) policymakers’ expectations.”

The combination of decelerating inflation and low unemployment has raised hopes that the Fed is managing a so-called soft landing — raising rates just enough to tame inflation without causing a recession.

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