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Jobless claims, or layoffs, fell below 200,000 in early April for the first time since 1969 owing to an ultra-strong labor market.

The numbers: The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits in early April fell below 200,000 for the first time since 1969, the latest sign that an ebullient labor market remains an island of strength for a slower-growing U.S. economy.

Jobless claims, a rough measure of layoffs, fell by 8,000 to 196,000 in the seven days ended April 6, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 210,000 reading.

The decline in jobless claims follows closely on the heels of government report showing a rebound in job creation in March after a near-hiring freeze in February. The U.S. added 196,000 new jobs last month.

What happened: Jobless claims have fallen four weeks in a row to the lowest level in 50 years, just a few months after spiking to as high as 244,000.

The more stable monthly average of claims, meanwhile, declined by 7,000 to 207,000. That was also the lowest mark since 1969.

The last time jobless claims were as low as they are now, the working population in the U.S. was far smaller and the economy looked much different. While changing eligibility standards and other differences in the claims report over time make comparisons with past periods difficult, the low level of layoffs is still quite remarkable.

The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, fell by 13,000 to 1.71 million.

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Big picture: Steady hiring, declining jobless claims, rising wages and the lowest unemployment rate in half a century are likely to help the U.S. economy endure a recent soft patch in growth. Most economists predict growth will pick up in the spring.

Read: Goldilocks economy? No. But steady job gains, low inflation to keep recession at bay

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, +0.03%

and S&P 500

SPX, +0.35%

were set to open higher in Thursday trades.

The 10-year Treasury yield

TMUBMUSD10Y, +1.15%

fell slight to 2.47%. Yields are much lower compared to late last year, when they hit a seven-year high of 3.23%.

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