The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell to its lowest since the early days of the 2007-09 recession, a hopeful sign for the sluggish labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Claims have now fallen for two straight weeks, suggesting that if employers are concerned tax hikes enacted this year will affect consumer demand, this is not leading to more layoffs.
A Labor Department analyst said claims data were estimated for three states last week, but there was nothing unusual in the state level data.
"The economy's doing better," said Michael Strauss, an economist at Commonfund in Wilton, Conn.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected claims to rise to 355,000 last week.
Economists have cautioned about reading too deeply into this month's figures, as claims tend to be volatile around this time of the year.