The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to its lowest level in seven years, beating economists' estimate and reflecting an improved outlook for the job market.
For the week ending April 5, seasonally adjusted initial claims fell 32,000 from the previous week to 300,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The last time the number dipped below 300,000 was in May 2007.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated a new claims total of between 310,000 to 330,000.
The 4-week moving average, which is a less volatile indication of the job market outlook, fell 4,750 to 316,250. That's the lowest since late September.
The previous week's level was revised up by 6,000 from 326,000 to 332,000.
The Labor Department said "there were no special factors impacting this week's initial claims." But fewer layoffs and the improving weather that triggers new economic activities helped push down unemployment claims.
"The winter claims boost from adverse weather has now been reversed with gusto," said Michael Englund, chief economist of Action Economics.
Economists caution that seasonally-adjusted jobless claims numbers can be volatile this time of year due to changing dates for Easter and school spring breaks. Easter was on March 31 last year and comes on April 20 this year.
On a not-seasonally-adjusted basis, initial claims for jobless benefits have risen two weeks in a row. This year's early-April plunge in seasonally-adjusted numbers could be skewed by Easter arriving later, Englund said.
The jobless claims report is the latest to show improving trends in the U.S. labor market.
On Tuesday, the Labor Department reported that the job openings in February rose 7.7% from January. The rate of private-sector job openings reached its highest level since the recovery started in mid-2009. Hires also rose 1.6% from January.
Last week, the government reported the economy gained 192,000 jobs in March while January and February job gains were 37,000 higher than previously estimated. The unemployment rate held steady at 6.7%.
"We thought the full-employment unemployment zone from claims was 300,000 to 325,000," Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, wrote in a client note. "Maybe we need to rethink this idea as it looks like the economy can do even better."
"What today's 300,000 unemployment claims number tells us is that current labor market conditions are normal. That means the unemployment rate will fall at the exact same speed it has ever since it peaked in October 2009," he wrote. "America is open for business."
Contributing: Doug Carroll