The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits last week fell to its lowest level in more than 41-1/2 years, suggesting job growth remained solid despite slowing in June.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 255,000 for the week ended July 18, the lowest level since November 1973, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
However, last week's drop likely exaggerates the strength of the labor market as claims are volatile during summer when automakers usually shut assembly plants for annual retooling.
Some firms keep production lines running, which throws off a model the government uses to smooth the data for seasonal variations. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the data and that only claims for Puerto Rico 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, fell only 4,000 to 278,500 last week. The claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed employers for the nonfarm payrolls portion of July's employment report.
Though the four-week moving average of claims increased 1,500 between the June and July survey periods, payroll growth likely remained above the 200,000 threshold this month.
The four-week moving average of claims has been below the key 300,000 mark, which is normally associated with sturdy job gains, for 17 straight weeks - an unusually long stretch.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 9,000 to 2.21 million in the week ended July 11.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)