US weekly jobless claims fall more than expected

(Reuters) - New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, but claims for several states including California and Virginia were estimated.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 221,000 for the week ended May 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims data for the prior week was unrevised.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 228,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said claims for California, Kansas, Virginia, Maine, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were estimated last week because of Monday's Memorial Day holiday.

The labor market is viewed as being close to or at full employment. The jobless rate is near a 17-1/2-year low of 3.9 percent, within striking distance of the Federal Reserve's forecast of 3.8 percent by the end of this year.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, viewed as a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,500 to 222,250 last week.

The claims report has no bearing on May's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 188,000 jobs after rising by 164,000 jobs in April.

Job growth is slowing, with employers struggling to find qualified workers.

The Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book report of anecdotal information on business activity collected from contacts nationwide showed labor market conditions remained tight across the country in late April and early May.

The Fed said contacts continued to report difficulty filling positions across skill levels. There were notable shortages of truck drivers, sales personnel, carpenters, electricians, painters, and information technology professionals, the U.S. central bank said in its report published on Wednesday.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 16,000 to 1.72 million in the week ended May 19. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims dropped 8,500 to 1.74 million, the lowest level since December 1973.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)