The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, hitting a two-month low, in a sign that labor market conditions remained robust in early July.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 214,000 for the week ended July 7, the lowest level since early May, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 225,000 in the latest week.
Last week's data included the Independence Day holiday, which this year fell on a Wednesday, which could have thrown off the model that the government uses to the smooth the claims data for seasonal fluctuations. That probably contributed to the big drop in applications. The Labor Department said claims for Maine and Hawaii were estimated last week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,750 to 223,000 last week.
The economy created 213,000 jobs in June. While the unemployment rate increased to 4.0 percent from an 18-year low of 3.8 percent in May, that was because more people entered the labor force, a sign of confidence in the job market.
The labor market is viewed as being near or at full employment. Layoffs remain low amid a shortage of skilled workers. There were 6.6 million unfilled jobs in May.
The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid slipped 3,000 to 1.74 million in the week ended June 30. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 9,500 to 1.73 million.