U.S. jobless claims fall as labor market tightens

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WASHINGTON, The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week, pointing to a further tightening in the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 241,000 for the week ended March 11, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised. It was the 106th straight week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market.

That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. Last week's drop in new applications was broadly in line with economists' expectations. The labor market is near full employment. That, together with firming inflation, gave the Federal Reserve confidence on Wednesday to raise its overnight benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of 0.75 percent to 1.00 percent. The U.S. central bank forecast two more rate hikes this year.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and 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, edged up 750 to 237,250 last week.

Job growth has averaged 209,000 per month over the past three months and the unemployment rate is at 4.7 percent, close to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent hit last November. Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 30,000 to 2.03 million in the week ended March 4. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims fell 11,750 to 2.05 million.