New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits declined by 26,000 to 255,000 in the seven days ended July 18, the Labor Department said Thursday. This is the lowest level since November 1973 and a sign that the labor market is strong enough to keep the unemployment rate falling. Initial claims data is often volatile in July as auto plants close for retooling. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast initial claims to rose to 282,000 from 281,000 but many said they expected a volatile report. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged down by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,500. 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. Continuing jobless claims declined by 9,000 to 2.2 million in the week ended July 11. These claims reflect people already receiving unemployment checks.
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