New claims for U.S. jobless benefits fell by a larger-than-expected 11,000 last week, a government report showed Thursday, suggesting a healthy labor market.
The number of Americans filing initial claims for state unemployment aid fell to 302,000 in the week ended March 18, from an upwardly revised 313,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said.
Economists had expected jobless claims to dip to 305,000 from the 309,000 initially reported for the week ended March 11.
However, the four-week moving average of claims, which offers a better view of underlying trends because it smooths weekly volatility, rose by 6,000 to 303,500, the first time this measure has exceeded the 300,000 level since the first week of 2006.
Economists say an average pace of layoffs of about 300,000 a week is consistent with steady employment growth.
The number of unemployed workers still on the benefit rolls after receiving an initial week of aid rose by 38,000 to 2.47 million in the March 11 week, the latest for which figures are available. The level of these so-called continued claims was slightly lower than the 2.48 million forecast by economists.