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Jobless claims fall for second consecutive week

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a second straight week last week, underscoring the strengthening labor market fundamentals.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 for the week ended Aug. 23, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims climbing to 300,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the state level data.

The four-week average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250 to 299,750, pointing to sturdy job gains and an economy that is growing above its potential.

Job growth has topped 200,000 for six consecutive months, a stretch last seen in 1997, while the economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual pace in the second quarter.

The jobless claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 25,000 to 2.53 million in the week ended Aug. 16.

The so-called continuing claims covered the period the government samples households to calculate the unemployment rate for August. Continuing claims increased 19,000 between the July and August household survey weeks, suggesting little change in the jobless rate, which was at 6.2 percent last month.

The unemployment rate for people receiving jobless benefits was 1.9 percent for the seventh consecutive week.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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