WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell to a 14-year low last week, a positive signal for the labor market that could counter doubts over whether the economy is shifting into a higher gear.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000, its lowest level since 2000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
That suggests the labor market is gaining steam and could bolster the view that the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates next year when the jobless rate is expected to continue to fall.
However, while the spike in layoffs during the 2007-2009 recession is decidedly in America's rear view mirror, the pace of hiring has only increased modestly over the last year, and Fed officials remain concerned about persistently low rates of inflation.
Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 290,000 for the week ended Oct. 11.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 4,250 to 283,500, also its lowest level since 2000.
The Labor Department said there were no special factors influencing the state level claims data.
The report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 7,000 to 2.39 million in the week ended Oct. 4.
Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Paul Simao