U.S. initial jobless claims drop to lowest in almost 44 years

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(Bloomberg) – The fewest Americans in almost 44 years filed applications to collect unemployment benefits last week, indicating the job market continues to power forward.

Jobless claims fell by 19,000 to 223,000 in the week ended Feb. 25, the fewest since March 1973 and below the lowest projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists, a report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The median forecast called for 245,000 applications.

The weekly decline, which was the largest this year, shows employers are keeping dismissals at a minimum as demand remains steady and the labor market stays tight. Federal Reserve policy makers will take persistent job growth and falling separations into consideration at their monetary policy meeting later this month.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for initial jobless claims ranged from 230,000 to 260,000. The figure for the previous week was revised to 242,000 from an initially reported 244,000.

The four-week moving average decreased to 234,250 -- the lowest since April 1973 -- from 240,500.

While there was nothing unusual in the figures, jobless claims were estimated for Oklahoma, according to the Labor Department.

The latest tally marked 104 straight weeks of claims below 300,000, the level economists consider consistent with a healthy labor market. The 161-week period that ended in April 1970 was the longest such streak in records back to 1967.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 3,000 to 2.07 million in the week ended Feb. 18. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.5%. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

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