The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, but the underlying trend pointed to a continuing strengthening of labor market conditions. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000 for the week ended July 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 301,000. Summer automobile plant shutdowns for retooling cause volatility in claims around this time of the year as automakers sometimes keep assembly lines running. This throws off a model the government uses to adjust the data for seasonal variations. The four-week average of claims, considered a better gauge of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,500 to 297,250, the lowest level since April 2006. Despite the increase last week, claims remain at levels consistent with strong job growth. The data has no bearing on July's non-farm payrolls as it falls outside the survey window. The government is expected to report on Friday that payrolls increased by 233,000 in July, according to a Reuters survey of economists.
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