The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, hitting its lowest level since October, pointing to sustained strength in the labor market that should further dispel fears of a recession.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000 for the week ended March 5, the lowest reading since mid-October, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 275,000 in the latest week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated.
Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with healthy labor market conditions, for a year - the longest run since the early 1970s. Last week's drop saw claims breaking outside their recent 262,000-294,000 range.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 2,500 to 267,500 last week, the lowest level since late October.