The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labor market continues to expand at a solid clip even as economic growth has stalled.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000 for the week ended March 28, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Claims for the prior week were revised to show 6,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 285,000 last week.
A Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data. The department made revisions to the model it uses to adjust the claims data for seasonal fluctuations, which resulted in revisions to prior figures.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 14,750 to 285,500 last week.
The bullish claims report, which has no bearing on March's employment report as it falls outside the survey period, bolsters views that the economic slowdown will be temporary.
Nonfarm payrolls likely increased 245,000 last month, with the unemployment rate holding steady at a more than 6-1/2 year low of 5.5 percent, according to a Reuters survey of economists.
Although the anticipated increase would be below February's 295,000 jobs, March would mark the 13th straight month of employment growth above 200,000 - the longest stretch since 1994.
There is, however, a risk of a softer number after a report on Wednesday showed that private payrolls gains in March were the smallest since January 2014.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 88,000 to 2.33 million in the week ended March 21. That was the lowest reading since December 2000. (Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)