WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless insurance unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level since January, according to a government report on Thursday that hinted at stabilization in the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 514,000 in the week ended October 10, the Labor Department said. New jobless claims have declined for five of the last six weeks.
Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast new claims rising to 525,000 last week from a previously reported 521,000.
The four-week moving average for new claims dipped 9,000 to 531,500 last week, declining for a sixth straight week. The four-week moving average is considered a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility.
Even more encouraging, the number of people collecting long-term unemployment benefits dropped 75,000 to 5.99 million in the week ended October 3, the latest week for which the data is available. That was the first time that the so-called continuing claims had dropped below the 6 million mark since late March. This measure has trended lower for four consecutive weeks.
The fall, however, could be a sign that many jobless workers have exhausted their unemployment benefits.
The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 68,250 to 6.08 million, the lowest level since mid-April. The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, eased to 4.5 percent in the week ended October 10 from 4.6 percent the prior week.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)