The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits sank by 21,000 to 283,000 in the seven days from Feb. 8 to Feb. 14, signaling that layoffs remain low and the pace of the hiring in the U.S. is still strong. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 290,000 from an unrevised 304,000 in the first week of February. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, declined by 6,500 to 283,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the lowest level since the end of October and the third lowest since the recovery began five and a half years ago. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Also, the government said continuing claims increased by 58,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.43 million in the week ended Feb. 7. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits.
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