Jobless claims fall below 300,000

Applications for jobless benefits took a sharp drop last week as the labor market shows more signs of improving.

First-time claims for unemployment insurance fell 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000, down from the prior week's 311,000, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

The four-week moving average, a better gauge of the health of the labor market, increased 4,750 to 300,750.

Employers have picked up hiring in recent months and reduced layoffs as the nation’s economy finally builds some steam.

July marked the sixth straight month that employers have added more than 200,000 jobs.

Economists expect the second half of the year to produce stronger growth after a dismal first quarter that showed a contraction.

But the economy rebounded in the April-June period with 4 percent growth.

Consumers remain wary despite an abundance of data showing the economy picking up pace because of stagnant wage growth.

Earlier this week, the Commerce Department showed a surge in home building across the country, a good sign for the housing sector, which has gone through its fair share of fits and starts.

The Federal Reserve is expected to end its massive monetary stimulus this fall but there are some on the board who argue that the central bank should move even faster to end the stimulus, according to minutes released on Wednesday.