WASHINGTON -- First-time jobless claims dropped more than expected last week to 344,000 and the number of people collecting unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since mid 2008, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Initial claims for unemployment insurance were down 22,000 for the week ending Saturday, compared to the previous week.
Analysts had expected claims to drop only slightly, to 360,000, last week. The less-volatile four-week average was 355,000, down 6,750 from the average as of the previous week.
Last week marked just the fourth time since early 2008 that weekly claims fell below 350,000, the level that economists say is consistent with strong job growth. Three of those weeks have come this year.
"There have simply been too many weeks this year with unemployment claims below 350K to not think the labor market is improving," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.