Applications for U.S. state unemployment insurance fell last week to the lowest since 1969 as employers desperately try to hang onto workers amid near-record job openings and depressed labor-force participation.

Initial unemployment claims decreased by 28,000 to 187,000 in the week ended March 19, Labor Department data showed Thursday. The median estimate called for 210,000 applications in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

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Continuing claims for state benefits dropped to 1.35 million in the week ended March 12, the lowest since 1970.

The drop in claims is consistent with a labor market in which employers are desperately trying to hang onto workers and attract new ones. Applications should stay low as the combination of dwindling savings and decades-high inflation is raising Americans’ financial incentive to work.

The level of claims is the lowest of the pandemic period, reflecting a jobs market that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell described as being at a “tight to an unhealthy level” last week. He also cited millions of job openings and a historically low unemployment rate.

What Bloomberg Economics says...

“These measures denote heightened expectations for aggregate demand to remain significantly above aggregate supply, and a reflection of the difficulty in finding, training and attracting skilled workers.”

-- Eliza Winger, economist

On an unadjusted basis, initial claims decreased to 181,087 last week.

California, Michigan and Kentucky were states registering the biggest drops in unadjusted claims.