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U.S. jobless claims fall to 367,000 in latest week

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New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, a government report showed on Thursday, pointing to more healing in the nation's battered jobs market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, the Labour Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 379,000 from the previously reported 377,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 375,000. Claims have been lower than 400,000 for eight of the last 10 weeks, holding below a level associated with labour market healing.

The four-week moving average for initial claims, a trend measure that smoothes out volatility, fell 2,000 to 375,750.

A Labour Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and that no state had been estimated.

Job growth has gained momentum in recent months and the unemployment rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent in December.

Still, the labour market recovery has a long way to go, with 23.7 million Americans either out of work or underemployed.

The Federal Reserve last week acknowledged the improvement in the labour market, but noted the jobless rate remained too high and said it would likely keep overnight lending rates near zero until at least late 2014.

Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is due to testify before lawmakers later on Thursday, has said the Fed was mulling further asset purchases to help foster stronger economic growth.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 130,000 to 3.437 million in the week ended January 21, the lowest since September 2008.

Economists had forecast so-called continuing claims at 3.55 million.

The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits rose 100,392 to 3.022 million in the week ended January 14, the latest week for which data is available.

A total of 7.67 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, little changed from the prior week.

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