The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but remained below a level associated with a strong labor market.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 276,000 for the week ended March 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims remaining unchanged at 265,000 in the latest week.
Applications for unemployment benefits have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with healthy labor market conditions, for 55 weeks, the longest stretch since 1973. With the labor market continuing to tighten, there is little scope for significant further declines in claims.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 263,250 last week.
The data has no bearing on Friday's employment report for March, as it falls outside the survey period. Claims were generally low last month, suggesting that job growth remained solid.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 205,000 this month after rising by 242,000 in February. The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 7,000 to 2.17 million in the week ended March 19, the lowest level since mid-October. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims declined 14,500 to 2.19 million.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)