By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell and hit a fresh three-month low last week, suggesting a strengthening in labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the lowest reading since late November.
Claims for the week ended March 1 were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 330,000 in the week ended March 8.
The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 6,250 to 330,500, the lowest level since early December.
A Labor Department analyst said no states were estimated.
Unseasonably cold weather has slowed job growth in recent months, but the labor market is showing signs of shaking off winter's icy grip.
Nonfarm payrolls increased 175,000 in February. They had risen 129,000 in January and gained 84,000 in December. Economists expect job gains to accelerate in March as temperatures warm up.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 48,000 to 2.86 million in the week ended March 1. That was the lowest level since December.