updated 1/18/2007 12:22:43 PM ET 2007-01-18T17:22:43

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped by a surprisingly large 8,000 last week to the lowest level in 11 months, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

Major Market Indices

Initial filings for state unemployment insurance aid fell to 290,000 in the week ended January 13 from a revised 298,000 in the previous week. That was the lowest since the week of February 18, 2006, and was contrary to forecasts by Wall Street analysts that new claims would rise to 315,000.

A department analyst said there were no special factors to account for the drop but noted that seasonal adjustments can skew the data and lead to sharp fluctuations during holiday periods.

The relatively low jobless claims data imply a healthy job market and, on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said in its latest Beige Book survey of national economic conditions that employers in many regions said they were having trouble finding skilled workers to hire.

A four-week moving average of claims, which smoothes weekly volatility in the numbers, also fell last week to 308,000 from 314,500 in the prior week. It was the smallest number for the moving average of claims since 305,500 in the week ended last October 21.

But the total number of unemployed still on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid rose. So-called continued claims jumped by 120,000 to 2.53 million in the week ended January 6, the latest period for which figures are available.

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