The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-March remained below the key 300,000 threshold that signals a much improved labor market. Initial jobless claims edged up by a scant 1,000 to 291,000 in the seven days from March 8 to March 14. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, rose by 2,250 to a still-low 304,750, 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 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.42 million in the week ended March 7. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 290,000 from 289,000.
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