WASHINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week after two straight weekly increases, pointing to continued steady job growth after recent hurricane-related disruptions.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 239,000 for the week ended Nov. 18, the Labor Department said on Wednesday, reversing the prior week's increase.
Claims had risen in recent weeks as a backlog of applications from Puerto Rico was processed following repairs to infrastructure damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. A Labor Department official said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands.
The claims report was released a day early because of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 240,000 in the latest week.
Last week marked the 142nd straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.
The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 1,250 to 239,750 last week.
The claims data covered the survey period for the nonfarm payrolls component of November's employment report. The four-week average of claims fell 8,750 between the October and November survey weeks, suggesting steady job growth this month.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are not included in the nonfarm payrolls report.
The economy created 261,000 jobs in October, a large chunk of which reflected a recovery after workers in Texas and Florida were temporarily displaced by the hurricanes. Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 18,000 in September.
The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 36,000 to 1.90 million in the week ended Nov. 11. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims increased 1,000 to 1.89 million.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)