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The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose marginally last week, staying near a 15-year low in a sign that the labor market continues to strengthen despite moderate economic growth.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended May 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised at 262,000, which was the lowest reading since April 2000.
Claims have been below 300,000 for nine weeks. That threshold is usually associated with a strengthening labor market. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 280,000 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 4,250 last week to 279,500, the lowest since May 2000.
The data has no bearing on Friday's employment report for April as it falls outside the survey period.
However, the low trend in claims provides optimism that nonfarm payrolls rebounded in April, despite a report on Wednesday showing that private employers last month hired the fewest workers in more than a year.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased 224,000 in April after gaining 126,000 in March, when hiring was held back by bad weather.
April's employment report could offer new clues on the strength of the economy's recovery after a mix of cold weather, a strong dollar, port disruptions and deep spending cuts by energy firms brought first-quarter growth to a crawl.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 28,000 to 2.23 million in the week ended April 25. That was the lowest reading since November 2000 and suggested more long-term unemployed are getting jobs.