Written by Matt Ot

WASHINGTON (AP) – Last week fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits as layoffs continue to fall amid a strong recovery in the job market.

For the week ending March 12, the number of unemployment claims fell by 15,000 to 214,000 from 229,000 the previous week, the labor ministry said Thursday. For the first time, applications for unemployment benefits usually track the rate of layoffs.

The average for the four-week on-demand period, which compensates for weekly volatility, fell to 223,000 from 231,750 the previous week.

In the week ended March 5 alone, 1,419,000 Americans – for at least 50 years – were collecting unemployment benefits, 71,000 less than the week before.

Earlier this month, the government said employers added 678,000 jobs in February, making it the largest monthly volume since July. Unemployment fell to 3.8% from 4% in January, extending the sharp decline in unemployment to its lowest level since the pandemic erupted two years ago.

U.S. businesses posted nearly record highs in January – 11.3 million – a trend that helped pay for jobs and increased inflationary pressures.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday launched a high-risk effort to curb the worst inflation since the early 1980s by raising the base short-term interest rate and signaling six additional rate hikes this year.

Raising the Fed’s key rate by a quarter of a point, which it has tied to zero since the pandemic recession that began two years ago, marks the beginning of its efforts to curb the high inflation that followed the recession. Raising rates will eventually mean higher loan rates for many consumers and businesses.

Central bank policymakers expect inflation to remain high at 4.3% by 2022, according to quarterly forecasts they released on Wednesday.

Last week, the government reported that consumer inflation had jumped 7.9% over the past year, the sharpest jump since 1982.

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