The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, pointing to a further strengthening of labor market conditions. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased by 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000 for the week ended Aug. 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 305,000 for the week. Volatility related to the summer automobile plant shutdowns for retooling pushed claims to a 14-year low in July. Most of that volatility has worked its way through the data. The four-week average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 4,000 to 293,500, the lowest level since February 2006. The slow pace of layoffs and steady hiring are helping to strengthen labor market conditions, fanning speculation of an early interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve. The jobless claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped by 24,000 to 2.52 million in the week ended July 26.