Weekly jobless claims fell more than markets anticipated last week to a seasonally adjusted 282,000, according to a Labor Department report Thursday. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 for the week ended March 21, which the lowest level since mid-February.
Claims for the prior week, which were higher than expected, were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dipping to 290,000 last week, and Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 7,750 to 297,000 last week. It was the first time in three straight weeks the four-week average came in below the 300,000 threshold.
Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 6,000 to 2.42 million in the week ended March 14, a positive sign considering the small number of eligible Americans who have yet to quick on the labor force.
So-called continuing claims covered the period during which the government surveyed households for March’s unemployment rate. Continuing claims rose 12,000 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting little change in the jobless rate.
The unemployment rate fell to a more than 6-1/2-year low of 5.5 percent in February, but abysmally low labor force participation continued to push the artificial rate down.