U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly fall as labor market remains firm

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A sign marks the entrance to a job fair in New York October 24, 2011. ... (Copyright Reuters 2017)

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labor market remains strong despite a sharp slowdown in job growth in March.

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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 for the week ended April 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the third straight weekly decline in claims and left them not too far from a 44-year low of 227,000 hit in February.

Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 110 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the unemployment rate close to a 10-year low of 4.5 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 245,000 last week.

Claims tend to be volatile around this time of the year because of the different timings of spring and Easter holidays.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,000 to 247,250 last week. The low level of claims suggests that a sharp slowdown in job growth in March was an aberration and that the labor market continues to tighten.

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Nonfarm payrolls increased by 98,000 jobs last month, the fewest since last May.

Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 7,000 to 2.03 million in the week ended April 1. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims edged up 750 to 2.03 million.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)