WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose less than expected last week, pointing to some underlying strength in the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the week ended March 8 were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 325,000 in the week ended March 15.
The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,500 to 327,000, the lowest level since November.
A Labor Department analyst said no states were estimated and there were no special factors influencing the state level data.
Last week's claims data covered the period for the March nonfarm payrolls survey.
Claims fell 14,000 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting further improvement in job growth, which had slowed at the end of 2013 and the beginning of this year as an unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity.
There are signs, however, that hiring is picking up, with nonfarm payrolls accelerating somewhat in February.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday harsh weather had played an important role in the economy's weakness in the first quarter, adding that labor market conditions continued to improve.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 41,000 to 2.89 million in the week ended March 8. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
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