The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, a sign the labor market's slow recovery was gaining traction.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 363,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was below the median forecast in a Reuters poll of 370,000.
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An analyst from the department said New Jersey and Washington, D.C., did not turn in data due to the mammoth storm Sandy, which hit the Northeast earlier this week. The Labor Department estimated results for the state and for the nation's capital.
Economists have said the storm could lead to volatility in jobless claims over the coming weeks.
There were no signs the storm had any impact on last week's data, the Labor Department analyst said.
The four-week moving average for jobless claims, which smoothes out volatility, dropped 1,500 to a 367,250. Economists generally think a reading below 400,000 points to an increase in employment.
The country's weak labor market has dominated its presidential campaign and Friday's employment report will give the last jobless rate before Tuesday's election. Polls show a very tight race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The U.S. economy has recently shown some signs of health, with consumers spending more freely and home construction picking up. But business investment sank in the third quarter, a sign companies lack confidence in the strength of the economic recovery.
The prior week's estimate for jobless claims was revised slightly higher to show 3,000 more applications than previously reported.
Continuing claims for jobless benefits rose 4,000 in the week ended October 20 to a seasonally adjusted 3.263 million, the Labor Department said. (Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Neil Stempleman)