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New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, a government report showed on Thursday, further evidence a material improvement in the labour market was under way.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 the Labour Department said. The government revised weekly claims data back to 2006 to take into account new seasonal factors.
The claims data falls outside the survey period for the government's closely watched employment report for March, which is scheduled for release on Friday.
Nonfarm payrolls are expected to have increased a solid 190,000 after rising 192,000 in February, according to a Reuters survey, with the unemployment rate seen holding steady at a near two-year low of 8.9 percent.
The labour market is strengthening even though economic growth slowed somewhat early in the year, held back by bad weather and rising energy prices, after a fairly brisk pace in the fourth quarter.
Payrolls processing firm ADP Employer Services said on Wednesday private employers added 201,000 jobs in March.
U.S. stock index futures were little changed after the data, while government bond prices added to gains. The U.S. dollar fell against the euro.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging down to 380,000. The prior week's figure was revised up to 394,000 from the previously reported 382,000.
The four-week moving average of unemployment claims -- a better measure of underlying trends - rose 3,250 to 394,250.
A Labour 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 three weeks in a row, with the four-week average below that mark for the fifth straight week.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 51,000 to 3.71 million in the week ended March 19, the lowest level since October 2008.
Economists had expected so-called continuing claims to fall to 3.70 million from a previously reported 3.72 million.
The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits dropped 38,838 to 3.59 million in the week ended March 12, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 8.77 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.