WASHINGTON,(Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose less than expected last week and the four-week moving average hit its lowest level since 2000, suggesting an abrupt slowdown in job growth in March could be temporary.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 for the week ended April 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Claims for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 285,000 last week.
A Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data. Claims tend to be volatile around Easter because of the shifting nature of the holidays.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,000 to 282,250 last week, the lowest level since June 2000. Claims below 300,000 are associated with a strengthening labor market.
Job growth slowed sharply in March, with nonfarm payrolls increasing by only 126,000, ending a 12-month stretch of employment gains above 200,000. But with the weakness mostly concentrated in the weather-sensitive leisure and construction sectors, economists downplayed the slowdown.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 23,000 to 2.30 million in the week ended March 28. That was the lowest level since December 2000.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)