updated 7/27/2006 8:54:51 AM ET 2006-07-27T12:54:51

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped below the 300,000 level last week, signaling continued strength in the labor market despite a recent slowdown in job creation.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims totaled 298,000 last week, a drop of 7,000 from the previous week.

That was a bigger improvement in claims than analysts had been expecting and provided evidence of strength in a labor market that has experienced a significant slowing in job creation in recent months.

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