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Latest Unemployment Benefits Claims Hint Labor Market Is Regaining Strength

Administrator's hand fill in business schedule form document writing on yearly work plan, monthly timetable sheet, or weekly time table paper for office tasks, things and jobs to do listAdministrator's hand fill in business schedule form document writing on yearly work plan, monthly timetable sheet, or weekly time table paper for office tasks, things and jobs to do list

Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by more than expected to a four-week low, a sign the labor market is regaining its footing following the longest-ever government shutdown.

Jobless claims declined to 216,000 in the week ended Feb. 16, below forecasts for 228,000, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased to the highest in a year.

The largest drop in filings in two months may calm some concerns that filings were becoming elevated in recent weeks. At the same time, claims tend to be volatile early in the year because of several holidays and it may take more time to gauge the underlying trend.

The latest claims figures may get more attention than usual because the week included the 12th of the month, making it the survey reference period for the Labor Department’s February jobs report.

While January figures showed strong increases in jobs and wages, the shutdown has delayed other data on the economy, making it tougher to gauge the pace of growth in the first quarter.