WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week and a trend reading hit a near five-year low, pointing to ongoing healing in the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims figure was revised to show 3,000 more new claims than initially reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected 360,000 claims last week. Claims were volatile in January due to the timing of holidays and the dates on which weeks ended, but a Labor Department analyst said that some of that volatility appeared to be receding. The analyst said there was nothing unusual in the data, and no states estimated their readings.
The four-week moving average for new claims, a gauge of the trend in layoffs, dropped 2,250 to 350,500. That was the lowest level since March 2008, suggesting a steady improvement in labor market conditions.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid increased 8,000 to 3.22 million in the week ended Jan. 26.
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