New applications for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week and the number of Americans on unemployment rolls hit a 28-1/2-year low, pointing to a rapidly tightening labor market that could encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in June.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 236,000 for the week ended May 6, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 245,000.
Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 114 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at a near 10-year low of 4.4 percent.
Labor market strength, also marked by a sharp rebound in job growth