Monthly average of jobless benefits claims hits eight-year low

A monthly measure of jobless benefits applications fell to its lowest level in more than eight years, as the labor market continues its steady improvement.

Meanwhile, first-time claims for weekly unemployment benefits increased 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 302,000, a sign that employers are laying off fewer workers, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The four-week average, a more stable measure that better reflects the trajectory of the labor market, dropped 3,500 to 297,250, the lowest average since April 2006 when it was 296,000.

The previous week's average was revised down by 1,250 from 302,000 to 300,750.

Weekly claims from the prior week were even lower than initially reported, revised down 5,000 to 279,000, the lowest level since May 2000.

The government is set to release its July jobs report on Friday with the forecast coming in around 235,000, which would be lower than the 288,000 added in June.

If the jobs figure sticks above 200,000 it would be the sixth straight month of gains above that level, the best streak since the late 1990s.

The unemployment rate, which fell to 6.1 percent last month, is expected to hold for July.

On Wednesday an ADP report showed that private-sector employers added 218,000 jobs in July. That's lower than the 281,000 added in June but reflects broad-based gains across all sectors and business sizes.