The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits plunged 43,000 to 265,000 in the week that ended Jan. 24, hitting the lowest tally in 14 years, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The decline, the biggest since November 2012, was much larger than expected. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to tick down to 296,000 in the most recent weekly data from 307,000 in the prior week. Analysts caution over reading too much into claims reports this time of the year, citing volatility from the holidays and weather. The department said there were no special factors in the report but noted that the reference week was shortened by the federal Martin Luther King holiday. Longer-run trends also showed improvement, with the four-week average of new claims falling 8,250 to 298,500. Also Thursday, the government said continuing claims fell by 71,000 to 2.39 million in the week that ended Jan. 17. The four-week average of continuing claims, which reflect the number of people already receiving benefits, rose 8,250 to 2.44 million.
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