The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, in a boost to the labor market outlook and the broader economy.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 3,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits falling to 335,000 in the week ended Feb. 1.
The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, nudged up 250 to 334,000.
A Labor Department analyst said claims for Kansas were estimated and there were no special factors affecting the state level data.
The data has no bearing on January's employment report, which will be released on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period. Hiring is expected to have accelerated in January after being held down by unseasonably cold weather the prior month.
Nonfarm payrolls likely increased 185,000 last month, up from December's tepid 74,000 count, according to a Reuters poll of economists. The unemployment rate is forecast to hold steady at a five-year low of 6.7 percent.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid increased 15,000 to 2.96 million in the week ended Jan. 25.
The so-called continuing claims have been elevated in recent weeks and some economists say the cold weather could be preventing many recipients from going out to search for work and companies to delay hiring.