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Washington (AFP) — First-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, adding to signs of a firming jobs market, government data showed Thursday.

Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, totaled 311,000 in the week of March 22, down from 321,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said.

The four-week moving average fell by 9,500 to 317,750 claims. A year ago the average stood at 343,000 claims.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics warned not to conclude that the recent fall in claims is a permanent shift.

“We are still cautious about calling the data evidence of a real downshift in the trend,” he said.

“Claims are volatile and it takes more than three good weeks to establish a new trend.”

In February, the U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7 percent and the economy added 175,000 jobs, picking up the pace of job growth.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

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