March 20, 2014 8:35 AM, EDT
Jobless Claims Held Last Week Near Four-Month Low
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits held last week near the lowest level in almost four months, a sign the labor market continues to strengthen.

Jobless claims increased by 5,000 to 320,000 in the week ended March 15, a Labor Department report showed March 20 in Washington. The median forecast of 51 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase to 322,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to the lowest level since late November.

“Most of the evidence points toward a labor market that’s continuing to do gradually better,” Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in New York, said in an interview before the report.

No states estimated applications last week, and nothing unusual was in the data, a Labor Department spokesman said.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 310,000 to 335,000. The prior week’s claims were unrevised at 315,000.

The four-week average declined to 327,000 from 330,500 the week before.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits increased by 41,000 to 2.89 million in the week ended March 8 after reaching a three-month low the prior period.