Initial jobless claims fell to near a seven-year low last week in a sign of continued improvement in the labor market.
About 304,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ended Saturday, down 11,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
It was the fewest new claims since the week ended May 24 and near the post-Great Recession low of 298,000 reached two weeks before that.
Last week's drop was larger than anticipated by economists, who had expected claims to hold steady at 315,000.
The four-week average, which smooths out some of the volatility in the claims figures, dropped by 3,500 to 311,500. That also was near a seven-year low.
Economists watch initial jobless claims closely as a sign of labor market health. Last week's figures indicate June's robust job growth continued into July.
The economy added 288,000 net new jobs in June, marking the first time since 1999-2000 that job growth has exceeded 200,000 for five straight months.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.1% last month.
The total number of people receiving unemployment benefits rose by 10,000 to 2.58 million in the week ended June 28, the most recent data available, the Labor Department said Thursday.
But the four-week average for that figure dropped by 7,750 to 2.57 million for the same week. That was the lowest level since October 2007, the Labor Department said.
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