The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits for the first time fell unexpectedly last week to the lowest level since February, pointing to a U.S. job market that remains relatively tight even as other recent data indicate it has begun to soften. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 13,000 to 216,000 in the week ended Sept. 2 from a revised 229,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the lowest since the same level was touched in the week ended Feb. 11 and it marked the fourth straight weekly decline.
Meanwhile, the rolls of those continuing to receive jobless benefits beyond the first week fell by 40,000 to 1.679 million in the week ended Aug. 26 from a revised 1.719 million a week earlier. That was the lowest since the same level was hit in the week ended July 15. Continued claims, followed by some economists as a proxy for hiring, had climbed notably from last year at this time through early April when they briefly rose above 1.85 million. Since then, however, they have declined and remain low by historical standards.