Weekly Jobless Claims Fell by 16,000

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, offering further confirmation that the labor market remains on solid footing despite tepid job gains in May.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 254,000 for the week ended July 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The drop left claims close to a 43-year low of 248,000 touched in mid-April.

Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast initial claims rising to 270,000 in the latest week.

Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 70 straight weeks, the longest stretch since 1973.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 2,500 to 264,750 last week.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data. However, claims for Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, Virginia and Wyoming were estimated because of the Independence Day holiday on Monday.

Last week's claims report has no impact on June's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday. Claims were low through the month, suggesting job gains probably picked up in June after increasing only 38,000 in May, the smallest gain since September 2010.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased 175,000 last month. The unemployment rate is forecast rising to 4.8 percent in June from an 8-1/2-year low of 4.7 percent in May.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 44,000 to 2.12 million in the week ended June 25. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims rose 3,000 to 2.15 million.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)