The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for jobless insurance was unchanged last week, but the four-week moving average of claims dropped to its lowest in almost a year, according to government data on Thursday that showed the labor market slowly healing.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits were flat at a seasonally adjusted 505,000 in the week ended November 14, the Labor Department said. New claims have been grinding lower in recent weeks, indicating a slowdown in the pace of layoffs.
Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast new claims edging up to 505,000 last week from a previously reported 502,000.
New jobless claims are being watched for signs of when job losses might bottom. Applications have dropped significantly from March's lofty levels, but remain above the 400,000 mark that analysts say would signal payrolls growth.
The four-week moving average for new claims fell 6,500 to 514,000 last week, the lowest since November last year and declining for the 11th straight week.
The four-week moving average is considered a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility.
The number of workers still collecting benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 39,000 to 5.61 million in the week ended November 7, the lowest since March. This was in line with market expectations for 5.60 million.
So-called continuing claims have fallen from a peak of 6.9 million in June and the drop is likely the combination of fewer new applications for unemployment aid and many jobless workers exhausting their benefits.
The four-week moving average of continuing claims declined 83,500 to 5.71 million. The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, was steady at 4.3 percent in the week ended November 7.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)