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The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, hitting a three-month low as the labor market continues to gather momentum.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 253,000 for the week ended July 16, the lowest reading since April, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
Claims are near the 43-year low of 248,000 touched in mid-April.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast initial claims rising to 265,000 in the latest week.
Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 72 straight weeks, the longest stretch since 1973.
Claims tend to be volatile around this time of the year when automobile manufacturers normally idle assembly lines for retooling. Some, however, often keep production running, which can throw off the model the government uses to strip out seasonal fluctuations from the data.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250 to 257,750 last week.
The claims data covered the survey week for July's nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 9,000 between the June and July periods, suggesting another month of strong job gains. The economy added a whopping 287,000 jobs in June, the largest this year.
Labor market strength, characterized by the very low layoffs and solid pace of hiring, is boosting consumer spending, which in turn is providing a lift to economic growth.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, the government is expected to report next week that the economy grew at a 2.6 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, an acceleration from the 1.1 percent pace logged in the first three months of the year.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 25,000 to 2.13 million in the week ended July 9. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims declined 2,750 to 2.14 million.
The report comes as the Chicago National Activity Index turned positive in June, coming in at 16.0 compared with the prior month's -0.56 reading.
A separate report on the Philadelphia Manufacturing Index showed the sector unexpectedly contracting in July, with a reading of -2.9. Economists had been expecting a reading of 5.0, up slightly from the prior month's 4.7 reading.
— CNBC contributed to this report.