The number of Americans initially applying for unemployment aid in the final week of March fell to the lowest level since late January, the latest sign of a strengthening job market, U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.
In the week ending March 28, the advance figure of seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits fell by 20,000 to a nine-week low of 268,000, near a 15-year low of 267,000 hit in late January, the department said.
Meanwhile, the four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of the underlying trend of labor market conditions, edged down by 14,750 to 285,500, falling back below the key 300, 000 mark.
The advance figure of seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending on March 21 stood at 2.32 million, the lowest level since December 2000.
Economists said the labor market is a more accurate gauge of improvement in the U.S. economy than the gross domestic product figures. Although the U.S. economy recovered from the financial crisis at a slow pace, the labor market is strengthening at a faster clip.
The employment growth has averaged 275,000 per month over the past year and the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent in February, the lowest level since May 2008, according to the Labor Department.
Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said last week that she expected an increase in the target range for the federal funds rate will be warranted later this year, as long as the labor market continues to improve. The central bank has kept benchmark short-term interest rates near zero since December 2008.