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  1. Business

Planned layoffs hit 14-year low as unemployment claims fall

WASHINGTON — American companies announced the fewest planned layoffs in 14 years in September while initial unemployment claims dropped last week to near a post-recession low, two positive labor market signs ahead of today's U.S. jobs report.

With the slowdown in job cuts last month, 2014 is on track to have the fewest layoffs since 1997, career counseling firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said Thursday.

"Job security is being helped by the fact that corporate profits remain near record highs," Challenger chief executive John A. Challenger said.

"So we may see some ebb and flow in the rate of hiring, but employers at this point are reluctant to make any overcorrection in workforce levels."

U.S.-based companies announced 30,477 planned layoffs last month, down from 40,010 in August, Challenger said. The September figure was the lowest since 2000.

Through last month, companies had announced 363,408 planned layoffs, down 6.2 percent from the same period last year. If the pace continues, 2014 will be the first year with fewer than 500,000 planned layoffs since 1997, Challenger said.

The private sector layoff figures came as the Labor Department reported that initial claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 287,000. That was down 8,000 from the previous week and near the post-recession low of 279,000 reached in mid July.

The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, fell to 294,750. That was near the eight-year low of 293,750 hit in early August.

The new data, on top of an upbeat report Wednesday on private sector hiring, point to a rebound in job growth last month after an August hiring lull.

Economists expect the Labor Department to report today that the economy added 215,000 net new jobs in September and that the unemployment rate held steady at 6.1 percent.

Job growth slowed in August to a net gain of 142,000, the first month since January that the economy added fewer than 200,000 net new jobs.