WASHINGTON -- The labor market looks like it is gaining some momentum.
For the fourth time in five weeks, the number of workers filing new unemployment claims fell, to 323,000 for the week that ended Saturday, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The drop, from 344,000 in the prior week, was larger than analysts' average forecast and brought the number to its lowest level since late September.
The economy produced a surprisingly strong 204,000 jobs in October, and the downward trend in initial claims for jobless benefits suggests that the pickup in the job market carried into November. Unemployment-claim data have been unusually volatile this fall, with some states upgrading their computer systems, but the Labor Department reported no special factors behind last week's reading.
"Jobless claims are low and show the economy is back on track creating new jobs after the federal government shutdown last month," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.
Some other analysts were more cautious. Cooper Howes at Barclays Bank said "the separations side of the labor market has improved significantly over the past year," as indicated by the low readings in jobless claims.
"At this point it appears to be head winds from the hiring side that are the more significant factor in preventing a stronger pickup in job growth," he said.