New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week and the number of Americans on jobless rolls declined to a near 44½-year low, pointing to a rapidly tightening labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 218,000 for the week ended June 9, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims data for the prior week was unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 224,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said claims for Maine and Hawaii were estimated last week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, viewed as a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250 to 224,250 last week.
The labor market is considered to be close to or at full employment, with the jobless rate at an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. The unemployment rate has dropped by three-tenths of a percentage point this year. It is near the Federal Reserve's forecast of 3.6 percent by the end of this year.