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Weekly claims tumble, fanning hopes for labor market thaw

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week fell slightly more than expected, pointing to an economy that was continuing to gain steam.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. However, claims for the prior week were revised to show 6,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 335,000 last week.

The four-week moving average for new claims fell 9,750 to 349,000.

Job seekers sit at computers looking for jobs available at a Workforce One Employment Solutions center in North Miami, Fla.
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Job seekers sit at computers looking for jobs available at a Workforce One Employment Solutions center in North Miami, Fla.

A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated, but noted that adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations remained a challenge.

While claims have been extremely volatile around the holiday season, they are still largely consistent with other labor market indicators that have painted an upbeat picture of the jobs market and the overall economy.

Last week's data has no bearing on the government's closely watched employment report for December.

The Labor Department is expected to report on Friday that non-farm payrolls increased 196,000 last month after gaining 203,000 in November, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

The unemployment rate is forecast to be steady at a five-year low of 7.0 percent.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 50,000 to 2.87 million in the week ended Dec. 28.

A total of 4.19 million people were receiving benefits under all programs in the week ended Dec. 21. With benefits for more than a million long-term unemployed Americans having expired on Dec. 28, that figure should decline sharply in the weeks ahead.

--By Reuters

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