Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits held near a six-week low, showing firings remain muted following the holidays.
Jobless claims rose by 1,000 to 326,000 in the period ended Jan. 18, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected 330,000. Applications for one state and the District of Columbia were estimated and there were no other unusual circumstances, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data were released.
Rising optimism about the growth outlook in the world’s largest economy is buoying business and consumer spending and keeping dismissals subdued. Further hiring gains and a pickup in wages following a smaller-than-projected gain in December payrolls that some blamed on bad weather would help households sustain demand in the first quarter.
“It’s reassuring,” said William Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services Inc. in Boston. “After the December jobs report everybody was pretty nervous. This is a number that makes it more likely December was a fluke.”

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