By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to strengthening labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 312,000 for the week ended June 14, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The prior week's claims were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless aid falling to 314,000 last week.
The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday the job market would continue to improve gradually and hinted at a slightly faster pace of interest rate increases starting in 2015.
The U.S. central bank, which has kept overnight lending rates near zero since December 2008, also announced further cuts to its monthly bond buying program.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the state level data.
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 3,750 to 311,750 last week.
The data covered the survey week for June's nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average for claims declined 11,000 between the May and June survey periods, suggesting payrolls will probably increase from last month's 217,000 tally.
The economy, which has recovered all the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession, has enjoyed four straight months of job gains above 200,000, a stretch last seen in early 2000.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 54,000 to 2.56 million in the week ended June 7, the lowest level since October 2007.
So-called continuing claims have been trending lower, an indication that some long-term unemployed were finding work. The unemployment rate for people collecting unemployment benefits fell to 1.9 percent during the week ended June 7, the lowest since October 2007, from 2 percent the prior week.