U.S. Jobless Claims up, Four-Week Average Lowest Since 1973

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People search for jobs on computers at the Verdugo Jobs Center, a partnership with the California Employment Development Department, in Glendale, California November 7, 2008. The U.S. unemployment rate shot to a 14-1/2 year high last month as ... employers slashed jobs by an unexpectedly steep 240,000, suggesting President-elect Barack Obama will face a deep recession when he takes office. REUTERS/Fred Prouser (UNITED STATES) - RTXADF8

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly more than expected last week, but the four-week average of claims fell to its lowest level since 1973, pointing to strengthening labor market conditions.

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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 244,000 for the week ended Feb. 18, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new claims for unemployment benefits rising to 241,000 in the latest week.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 4,000 to 241,000 last week, the lowest reading since July 1973. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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