The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits sank by 36,000 to 289,000 in the seven days from March 1 to March 7, reversing a sharp uptick in late February that was likely triggered by a bout of bad weather. The upshot: the labor market is still pretty healthy and improving at a rapid rate, as attested by the 295,000 increase in new U.S. jobs in February. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected new claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 310,000 from a revised 325,000 in the prior week. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,750 to 302,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Also, the government said continuing claims decreased by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.42 million in the week ended Feb. 28. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 325,000 from 320,000, marking the highest level since last May. The increase in claims last month coincided with several major storms in the eastern half of the United States.
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