WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, indicating the jobs market was on solid footing even as the economy struggles to regain momentum after abruptly slowing in the first quarter.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000 for the week ended May 9, the Labor Department said on Thursday, within a whisker of a 15-year low reached two weeks ago.
Claims for the prior week were unrevised. They have been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strengthening labor market, for 10 straight weeks.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 275,000 last week.
A Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and no states had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 7,750 last week to 271,750. That was the lowest level since April 2000.
The economy barely grew in the first quarter, held back by a range of factors, including a strong dollar, bad weather and port disruptions. Retail sales and manufacturing data suggest that while activity is picking up, the pace remains modest.
The government reported last week that nonfarm payrolls increased 223,000 in April, with the unemployment rate falling to near a seven-year low of 5.4 percent.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid was unchanged at 2.23 million in the week ended May 2.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)