The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 17,000 last week to 283,000, but initial claims remained below the key 300,000 level for the sixth straight week to reflect the low level of layoffs taking place in the economy. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 285,000 in the week ended Oct. 18. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,000 to 281,000 to mark the lowest level in 14 years, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as providing a more accurate snapshot of labor-market trends. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 266,000 from 264,000. The sharp decline earlier in the month - it was the second lowest reading since 1975 - was likely spurred in part by the Columbus Day holiday that closed state employment offices across the country. Also, Labor said continuing claims declined by 38,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.35 million in the week ended Oct 11. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits and are reported with a one-week lag.
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