The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labor market was continuing to gain momentum.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 261,000 for the week ended Aug. 20, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the third straight weekly decline in claims.
Claims for the prior week were unrevised. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 265,000 in the latest week.
Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strong labor market, for 77 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1973, when the labor market was much smaller.
With the labor market being viewed as either at or near full employment, claims will likely hover around current levels for a while. The job market has experienced robust hiring in the last two months and slack has also significantly diminished.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week’s claims data and that no states had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250 to 264,000 last week.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 30,000 to 2.15 million in the week ended Aug. 13. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims ticked up 250 to 2.16 million.
The continuing claims data covered the survey week for August’ s unemployment rate. Continuing claims rose 1,000 between the July and August survey periods. That suggests the jobless rate will probably hold steady at 4.9 percent this month.