The number of Americans lining up to claim first-time jobless benefits fell last week, the government said on Thursday in a better-than-expected report on the labor market.
First-time claims for state unemployment aid for the week ended Jan. 10 dropped 11,000 to 343,000 from a revised 354,000 in the previous week.
Analysts were expecting claim to post a small drop to 352,000 from the previously reported 353,000 for the Jan. 3 week.
The four-week moving average, which is often seen as a more reliable gauge of the jobs market because it smoothes out weekly fluctuations, tumbled to the lowest level since early February 2001. The average dropped 3,000 to 347,500.
A Labor Department official said there were no special factors in the data but said there is often increased volatility in the report at this time of the year.
The unexpectedly upbeat claims numbers follow a disappointing assessment of the employment picture put out by the Labor Department last Friday. Non-farm payrolls for December rose just 1,000, far fewer than expected, raising questions about the strength of the recovery for job seekers.
Analysts had been expecting a solid 130,000 increase in payrolls, partly based on positive jobless claims data for December.