US weekly jobless claims hover near 48-year low

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WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) - New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly held near more than a 48-year low last week, pointing to a further tightening of labor market conditions.

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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended May 5, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims dropped to 209,000 during the week ended April 21, which was the lowest level since December 1969.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 218,000 in the latest week.

The labor market is considered to be near or at full employment, leading to a slowdown in jobgrowth as employers struggle to find skilled workers. A government report on Tuesday showedjob openings rising to a record 6.6 million in March.

Hiring moderated in March and April after surging in February. The unemployment rate dropped to near a 17-1/2-year low of 3.9 percent in April from 4.1 percent in March. The jobless rate is within striking distance of the Federal Reserve's forecast of 3.8 percent by the end of this year.

The Labor Department said claims for Maine and Colorado were estimated last week. It also said claims-taking procedures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had still not returned to normal after the territories were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last 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, fell 5,500 to 216,000 last week, the lowest level since December 1969.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 30,000 to 1.79 million in the week ended April 28. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims dropped 22,000 to 1.81 million, the lowest level since December 1973.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao)

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