Jobless benefit claims near 7-year low

WASHINGTON — Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to near a seven-year low last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

About 304,000 people filed for first-time benefits in the week ended Saturday, down 11,000 from the previous week.

It was the fewest new claims since the week ended May 24 and near the post-recession low of 298,000 reached two weeks before that.

The four-week average, which smoothes 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 .

But the four-week average for that figure fell 7,750, to 2.57 million, for the same week. That was the lowest since October 2007, the Labor Department said.

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