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Washington (AFP) – New claims for U.S. unemployment insurance benefits tumbled last week to the lowest level in seven years, government data released Thursday showed.

Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, totaled a seasonally adjusted 300,000 in the week ending April 5, a decrease of 32,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised figure of 332,000, the Labor Department said.

The prior week’s number was previously estimated at 326,000.

The last time claims were so low was May 12, 2007, when they were 297,000.

The drop in claims last week was much sharper than the average estimate of 1,000 decline penciled in by analysts.

The four-week moving average was 316,250, down by 4,750 from the prior week’s slightly revised 321,000 reading.

Claims have slowly trended lower over the past year. The four-week moving average stood at 355,000 a year ago.

There were no special factors that affected last week’s claims numbers, the Labor Department said.

“We’d love to proclaim these numbers as definitive evidence of a real downshift in the trend in claims, but it’s even riskier than usual to put too much weight on single observations at this time of year,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“The shifting date of the Easter holiday from year-to-year causes problems for the seasonal adjustments, so we need to see a few more weeks’ numbers before we can be sure where the trend now stands.”

Shepherdson said that claims appeared to be drifting downward and that job growth was set to pick up.

The U.S. unemployment rate stood at 6.7 percent in March, while job growth over the first three months of the year was better than analysts expected given the unusually bad winter weather that gripped much of the country.

Photo: Samuel Huron via Flickr

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