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WASHINGTON | Thu Apr 7, 2011 8:46am EDT  - New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly more than expected last week, according to a government report on Thursday that pointed to firming labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, the Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 385,000. The prior week's figure was revised up to 392,000 from the previously reported 388,000.

The four-week moving average of unemployment claims -- a better measure of underlying trends - fell 5,750 to 389,500.

The government reported last week that payrolls increased 216,000 in March, with the unemployment rate falling to a two-year low of 8.8%. A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the claims data.

Claims have now held beneath the 400,000 level that is generally associated with steady job growth for four weeks in a row, with the four-week average below that mark for the sixth straight week.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 9,000 to 3.72 million in the week ended March 26, the lowest level since October 2008. Economists had expected so-called continuing claims to slip to 3.70 million from a previously reported 3.71 million.

The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits dropped 25,785 to 3.56 million in the week ended March 19, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 8.52 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.

© 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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