The number of people applying for new unemployment benefits fell by 8,000 to 287,000 in the last week of September, yet another sign that layoffs remain low and the labor market continues to improve. Initial jobless claims have been below the key 300,000 mark for three straight weeks and five of the last seven, according to Labor Department data issued Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 in the week of Sept. 21 to Sept. 27. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 4,250 to 294,750, just a hair above an eight-year low. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends. Also, Labor said continuing claims decreased by 45,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.39 million in the week ended Sept 20. That's the smallest amount since June 2006. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 295,000 from 293,000, based on more complete data collected at the state level.
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