By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABERWASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans sought unemployment aid last week, the latest sign that companies are holding onto their workers. THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for jobless benefits fell 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 254,000. That's down from a three-month high in the previous week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up 1,750 to 259,750. Just over 2 million people are receiving unemployment aid, up 18,000 from the previous week. THE TAKEAWAY: Applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, have remained below 300,000 for 88 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1970. Businesses appear to be confident enough in their future prospects to maintain their staffs. And when layoffs are so low, companies typically step up hiring. A separate report earlier this week showed layoffs near record-low levels. Economic growth quickened to a 2.9 percent annual pace in the July-September quarter after a sluggish start to the year of just 1.1 percent growth in the first half. Hiring has slowed from last year but remains solid enough to lower the unemployment rate over time. Employers added 161,000 jobs in October, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent, the government said last week. KEY DRIVERS: Many companies are struggling to fill their open jobs, suggesting that they cannot find the qualified workers they need. That makes them less likely to cut loose their current employees. Americans' willingness to spend on big-ticket items such as cars and homes is helping fuel growth. Sales of both are at healthy levels, though they appear to be leveling off.