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U.S. jobless claims drop, continuing claims lowest since 2007

Attendees at a job fair line up for an interview carrying their resumes in leather bags in a Washington hotel, August 6, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a strengthening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 300,000 for the week ended May 24, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

The prior week's claims were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless aid falling to 318,000 last week.

Claims have been choppy in recent weeks, reflecting difficulties seasonally adjusting the data around moving holidays such as Easter and Passover.

Through the volatility, however, claims continued to suggest the labor market was firming.

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 11,250 to 311,500 last week, the lowest level since August 2007.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the state level data.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 17,000 to 2.63 million in the week ended May 17, the lowest level since November 2007.

That covered the household survey week, from which the unemployment rate will be calculated.

The unemployment rate of people receiving jobless benefits was unchanged at 2 percent. That and a 43,000 decline in the so-called continuing claims between the April and May survey periods suggest the unemployment rate could decline from 6.3 percent in April.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)