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Initial jobless claims drop back below 300,000

Initial jobless claims were back below 300,000 last week, indicating a healthy labor market

Initial jobless claims declined more than expected last week, falling back below the 300,000 level that indicates a healthy labor market.

About 283,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits, down from 304,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The drop was more than forecast by economists, who expected 290,000 initial claims.

The weekly figure can be volatile but it is a key indicator of the state of the labor market.

Claims had been running below 300,000 for most of the fourth quarter of last year before bumping up a bit to start 2015.

But the four-week average, which smooths out some of the volatility, indicates that initial claims are still consistent with the solid job growth the economy has posted in recent months.

The four-week average fell 6,500 last week, to 283,250.

Federal Reserve policymakers are watching the labor market closely as they decide when to start raising the central bank's benchmark short-term interest rate.

In minutes from their Jan. 27-28 meeting, released Wednesday, some Fed officials said there was still considerable slack in the labor market even though the unemployment rate was down to 5.7% last month.

The jobs market needs to tighten more to strengthen the sluggish wage growth that has plagued the recovery from the Great Recession, economists said.

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