The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, but the underlying trend pointed to a continuing strengthening of labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000 for the week ended July 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
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The prior week's claims were revised to show 5,000 fewer applications received than previously reported. Claims for the week ended July 19 were the lowest since May 2000.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 301,000. Summer automobile plant shutdowns for retooling cause volatility in claims around this time of the year as automakers sometimes keep assembly lines running. This throws off a model the government uses to adjust the data for seasonal variations.
The four-week average of claims, considered a better gauge of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,500 to 297,250, the lowest level since April 2006.
A Labor Department analysts said there were no special factors influencing the state level data.
Despite the increase last week, claims remain at levels consistent with strong job growth. The data has no bearing on July's nonfarm payrolls as it falls outside the survey window.
The government is expected to report on Friday that payrolls increased by 233,000 in July, according to a Reuters survey of economists.
While that would be a deceleration from June's hefty gain of 288,000 jobs, it would mark the sixth straight month that employment has expanded by more than 200,000, a stretch last seen in 1997.
Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday acknowledged the improvement in labor market conditions, but said "significant underutilization of labor resources" remained.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 31,000 to 2.54 million in the week ended July 19.
The unemployment rate for people receiving jobless benefits held at 1.9 percent. (Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)