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Initial unemployment claims over past month at lowest level since 2007

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Four-week average of 310,250 first-time unemployment claims indicates continued improvement in the job market

Despite a modest increase last week in initial claims for unemployment benefits, the average during the past month was the lowest since 2007 in a positive sign ahead of Friday's jobs report.

First-time jobless claims rose to 312,000 in the week ended Saturday, up 8,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The figure was slightly above the consensus estimate from economists of 310,000 claims.

But the less-volatile four-week average dropped to 310,250, its lowest level since June 2007. Claims were running about 600,000 a week at the depths of the Great Recession in early 2009.

The overall number of people receiving benefits also is falling.

For the week ended May 24, the most recent data available, 2.6 million people got unemployment checks. That was the fewest since October 2007, shortly before the recession officially began.

Jobless claims are a key indicator of the state of the labor market, showing how much employers have been cutting back.

The downward trend in claims in recent weeks bodes well for overall job creation in May. Economists say claims below 350,000 indicate moderate job growth.

Analysts expect the Labor Department to report Friday that the economy added 213,000 net new jobs last month, down from a robust 288,000 in April. The unemployment rate is forecast to tick up to 6.4%.

The claims data offset a downbeat report this week on private-sector job growth. Payroll firm Automatic Data Processing said businesses added 179,000 jobs in May, below economist expectations.

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