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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, government data on Thursday showed, suggesting the labor market continues to expand at a moderate pace.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 372,000 from the previously reported 370,000.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, dropped 5,500 to 370,000.
Claims have barely budged in the past four weeks indicating a marginal improvement in the pace of job creation after April's disappointing 115,000 gain in nonfarm payrolls.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level claims data and no states had been estimated.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 29,000 to 3.26 million in the week ended May 12.
The so-called continuing claims data covered the week for the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived. The jobless rate dropped to 8.1 percent in April from 8.2 percent the prior month, but mostly as people gave up the hunt for work.
While more states are losing eligibility for extended benefits for the long-term unemployed, that is not yet being fully captured in the claims data as the figures are reported with a time lag .
Economists expect that as more people fall off the unemployment benefit rolls, that will artificially push down the jobless rate. Out-of-work people not receiving benefits are not obliged to be actively looking for work, a key criteria to be counted as unemployed.
The number of people on extended benefits dipped 4,800 to 299,955 in the week ended May 5, the latest week for which data is available. Only 15 states and the District of Columbia were offering extended benefits during that period.
There were 2.63 million Americans receiving emergency unemployment checks during that period, down 35,500 from the prior week.
A total of 6.17 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week ending May 5 under all programs, down 105,004 from the previous week.
Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci