Reporting from Washington — The number of people who filed for jobless benefits fell below 400,000 last week for the first time since early April, a decline probably aided by workers returning to manufacturing jobs after plants were retooled.
New applications for unemployment compensation dropped by 24,000, to 398,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 422,000 from an original reading of 418,000.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected new requests for jobless benefits to fall to 413,000 in the latest week.
The average of new claims over the last four weeks, meanwhile, declined by 8,500, to 413,750, also the lowest level since April. The four-week average is seen as a more accurate gauge of labor trends because it irons out volatility in the week-to-week data.
Claims often fall sharply in the third week of July as workers in certain parts of the manufacturing sector return to their jobs. Automakers and some other manufacturers usually close plants in early July to retool them to make the latest model of products.