initial jobless claims
A man holds his briefcase at a job fair in New York. The underlying trend in the labor market points to a strengthening labor market, new data show. Reuters

The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell unexpectedly last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, suggesting that the battered labor market is healing.

In the week ending Aug. 4, applications for unemployment insurance payments declined by 6,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 367,000, to 361,000. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would climb to 370,000 last week.

The four-week moving average, which normally provides a better indication of the underlying trend in labor markets than the weekly number of jobless claims, rose 2,250 to 368,250 for first-time benefit applicants.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and no state had been estimated, reports Reuters.

The number of people filing for benefits after an initial week of aid increased 53,000 to 3.33 million in the week ending July 28. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs. The four-week moving average for the week ended July 28 rose by 4,500 to 3.30 million.

Job gains are of great importance, because they lead to income growth, and that supports consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

July's jobs report showed employers added 163,000 jobs in the month and much better than the 95,000 jobs economists had called for. But the unemployment unexpectedly rose to 8.3 percent, from 8.2 percent in June.

Stock futures recouped some early losses. The S&P 500 futures are currently down 0.2 percent, at 1,395.40, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 0.01 percent, to 13,121.