New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits plunged by 16,000 last week to 453,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday, a steeper fall than had been anticipated in a sign that labor markets may be strengthening modestly.
Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast that claims would come in at 460,000. The government revised the prior week's figure up to 469,000 claims.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market trends, fell 6,250 to 458,000, its lowest level since July 24.
Persistently high unemployment is a restraint on consumer spending and also is emerging as a potent factor in the runup to November congressional elections in which Democratic majorities are under threat. President Barack Obama has been travelling around the country trying to bolster consumer confidence about the economic recovery's durability and boost chances for Democrats in the fall vote.
Weekly claims are now well below a nine-month high of 504,000 touched in mid-August.
The number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped by 83,000 to 4.46 million in the week ended Sept. 18, the latest week for which that figure was available.