The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose less than expected last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that could push the Federal Reserve closer to raising interest rates.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 263,000 for the week ended Aug. 27, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 265,000 in the latest week.
It was the 78th consecutive week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.
With the labor market nearing full employment, there probably is limited scope for further declines in claims.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and that no states had been estimated.
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The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,000 to 263,000 last week. The claims data has no bearing on August's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 180,000 jobs in August after rising by 255,000 in July. The unemployment rate is seen falling one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.8 percent.
August's anticipated step-down in job gains would follow two straight months of payroll increases above 250,000. Friday's employment report could determine whether the Fed raises interest rates again later this month or in December.
The U.S. central bank increased its benchmark overnight interest rate last December for the first time in nearly a decade.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 14,000 to 2.16 million in the week ended Aug. 20. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims rose 4,500 to 2.16 million.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)