The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a near six-year low last week, hinting at a pick-up in job growth in early August.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, the lowest level since October 2007, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to come in at 335,000 last week.
A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there was nothing unusual in the state-level data. He said there was less volatility in the data linked to automobile plant shutdowns that had plagued claims in July.
The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 4,000 to 332,000, the lowest level since November 2007.
The drop in both new applications and the four-week average offered hope of an improvement in labor market conditions after hiring slowed a bit in July.
The job market is being closely monitored for clues when the Federal Reserve might make an announcement on the future of its monthly $85 billion in bond purchases that it is making to keep borrowing costs low.
The U.S. central bank has said it plans to start scaling back on the program this year.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid declined 54,000 to 2.97 million in the week ended Aug 3.