WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, giving a clearer sign that the labor market is healing after wild fluctuations in claims data at the beginning of the month.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 369,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
The prior week's figure was revised slightly higher to show 4,000 more applications than previously reported.
A Labor Department analyst said all states submitted data for the report and that there was nothing unusual in the raw data. The analyst said the data showed no signs of the factors that had appeared to generate sharp swings in the claims reading over the prior two weeks.
The four-week moving average for jobless claims, which smoothes out such volatility, rose 1,500 to a 368,000. Economists generally think a reading below 400,000 points to an increase in employment, with hiring likely to outpace layoffs.
The U.S. economy remains hobbled by a persistently high jobless rate. Incomes have stagnated and many families are awash in debts taken on during a housing bubble in the last decade.
Recently, however, the economy has shown a few positive signals, with the unemployment rate falling to 7.8 percent and retail sales picking up. Consumer spirits have also brightened.
Those signs of improvement appear to have done little to bolster President Barack Obama's bid for a second term, and there is only one more reading on U.S. unemployment before voters go to the polls on November 6.
Earlier this month, claims swung sharply lower and then higher, which a Labor Department analyst said was likely due to a change in the seasonal pattern that usually manifests at the beginning of the quarter. That distortion in the seasonal data appears to a have passed, the analyst said on Thursday.
Continuing claims for jobless benefits fell 2,000 in the week ended October 13 to a seasonally adjusted 3.254 million, the Labor Department said.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)