US jobless claims fall, unwind prior weeks' increases

A job seeker waits to be interviewed during a job fair at California's Great America theme park in Santa Clara, Calif.
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The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, offering fresh signs of a rapidly strengthening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000 for the week ended March 7, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

That unwound much of the prior two weeks' increases, which had pushed claims well above the 300,000 mark. Harsh weather caused volatility in claims for much of this year.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 305,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,750 to 302,250 last week.

The government reported last week that the economy added 295,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate fell to a more than 6-1/2-year low of 5.5 percent.

February marked the 12th straight month that employment gains have been above 200,000, the longest such run since 1994.

Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 5,000 to 2.42 million in the week ended Feb. 28.