The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, reinforcing views of labor market strength that could encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates soon.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000 for the week ended Aug. 13, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast initial claims slipping to 265,000 in the latest week.
Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strong labor market, for 76 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1973, when the labor market was much smaller.
The labor market is now viewed as either at or near full employment, suggesting limited scope for more declines in claims. Labor market buoyancy, marked by robust hiring in the last two months and diminishing slack, could prompt the Fed to raise interest rates despite low inflation and sluggish economic growth in the first half of the year.