New claims for U.S. jobless aid fell by a slightly more-than-expected 6,000 last week, Labor Department data showed on Thursday, and remained at levels suggesting a stable jobs market.
First-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits declined to a seasonally adjusted 316,000 in the week ended Sept 23, compared with an upwardly revised 322,000 the prior week.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected 315,000 new claims last week, after an initially reported 318,000 the week before. New claims have remained in a narrow range for much of the year, indicating the layoff pace has steadied.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which irons out volatile weekly data to provide a better picture of underlying labor market trends, nudged down 500 last week to 315,500.
The number of people who continued to collect jobless benefits after drawing an initial week of aid declined by 8,000 to 2.444 million in the week ended Sept 16, the latest for which figures are available. The fall compared with a forecast for 2.485 million continued claims.
Financial markets will look closely at the claims data for signs of labor market tightness ahead of September's payroll report, due on October 6.
Analysts polled by Reuters forecast 123,000 new jobs were created last month, compared with 128,000 in August, while they see the unemployment rate unchanged at 4.7 percent.
The Federal Reserve is also monitoring labor markets closely as it ponders inflation pressures and whether it can afford to keep interest rates steady.
The Fed held rates at 5.25 percent at its meeting on September 20, after halting a 2-year rate hike campaign in August.