WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, offering signs of a steady improvement in the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 316,000, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 3,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to rise to 330,000 last week.
The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, slipped 7,500 to 331,750.
A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there were no special factors influencing the report. However, he noted that adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations around this time of the year remained a challenge.
While layoffs have slowed significantly, that has not been matched with a rapid acceleration in hiring as domestic demand remains lukewarm.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 91,000 to 2.78 million in the week ended Nov. 16. That was the lowest level since January 2008.
The so-called continuing claims data covered the household survey week from which the November unemployment rate will be calculated. Continuing claims fell 74,000 between the October and November survey periods, suggesting some improvement in the jobless rate after it rose to 7.3 percent in October.
The insured unemployment rate fell to 2.1 percent from 2.2 percent, the lowest since September.
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