The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, drifting back to near 42-year lows as labor market conditions continue to tighten.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000 for the week ended Nov. 21, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.
The prior week's claims were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Claims have now held below the 300,000 threshold for 38 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch in years, and remain close to levels last seen in the early 1970s. Claims below this level are usually associated with a healthy jobs market.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dipping to 270,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the data and only claims for Louisiana had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, was unchanged at 271,000 last week.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 34,000 to 2.21 million in the week ended Nov. 14.
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The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 15,250 to 2.18 million. The continuing claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed households for November's unemployment rate.
The four-week average of continuing claims rose 8,750 between the October and November survey periods, suggesting the unemployment rate will likely hold at a 7-1/2-year low of 5 percent this month.