Washington (AFP) - New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits fell last week, fresh evidence of improvement in the jobs market, official data released Thursday showed.
Initial jobless claims fell to 298,000 in the week ending August 23, a decline of 1,000 from the previous week's revised 299,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's level was revised up by 1,000.
The decline in new claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, surprised analysts, who projected a rise to 302,000 claims.
The level of jobless claims has been below 300,000 in four of the past six weeks. A year ago, claims totaled 336,000.
The four-week moving average of claims, which helps to smooth out weekly volatility, was 299,750, down by 1,250 from the prior week's revised average.
A year ago the average was 334,500, highlighting the downward trend in claims as the economy recovers from the severe 2008-2009 recession.
The US unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent in July, from 7.3 percent a year ago. The economy added 209,000 jobs, leaving the average number of jobs growth per month at 223,000 jobs this year.
That marked the first time since 1997 that the economy had added more than 200,000 jobs a month for six months straight.