WASHINGTON (AP) — Slightly more Americans applied for jobless aid last week, but the number of people seeking benefits has stayed near historic lows that point to a robust job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly applications rose by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 248,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less volatile four-week average rose 750 to 243,000.

The number of people collecting unemployment benefits has fallen 7.9 percent over the past 12 months to 1.96 million.

THE TAKEAWAY: The job market appears to be solid as the United States enters its ninth year of recovery from the Great Recession. Applications are linked to layoffs–and employers are holding onto workers with the expectation that business will continue improving. Jobless claims have come in below 300,000 for 122 weeks in a row. That’s the longest such stretch since 1970 when the U.S. population was much smaller.

KEY DRIVERS: The economy is expected to grow at roughly 2 percent after a weak start to 2017. This would be roughly in line with annual gains during the recovery. Consistent hiring has helped to sustain the gradual recovery, although the expansion is starting to show its age as the pace of job gains has slowed this year.

The Labor Department’s employment report to be released Friday is expected to show job gains in June of roughly 180,000, a pick-up from the 138,000 added in May. Forecasters anticipate that the unemployment rate will hold at a healthy 4.3 percent.

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