WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, hitting near a 49-year low in a sign the job market remains strong.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted level of 201,000 for the week ended Sept. 15, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That is the lowest level since November 1969. Data for the prior week's claims was unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 210,000 in the latest week.
The Labor Department said only claims for Hawaii were estimated last week. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, declined by 2,250 to 205,750 last week, the lowest level since December 1969.
The labor market is viewed as being near or at full employment. It continues to strengthen, with nonfarm payrolls increasing by 201,000 jobs in August and annual wage growth notching its biggest gain in more than nine years. Job openings hit an all-time high of 6.9 million in July.
Though there have been reports of some companies either planning job cuts or laying off workers because of trade tensions between the United States and its major trade partners, they have been partially offset by increased hiring in the steel industry.
Economists, however, have warned of job losses if the trade tensions escalate.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 55,000 to 1.645 million for the week ended Sept. 8, the lowest level since August 1973. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 20,750 to 1.691 million, the lowest level since November 1973.
(Reporting by Howard Schneider Editing by Paul Simao)