By Ben Leubsdorf

WASHINGTON--The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits fell last week, a sign of continued healthy momentum in the U.S. labor market.

Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, declined by 11,000 in the week ended Nov. 5 to a seasonally adjusted 254,000, the lowest level in four weeks, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 260,000 new claims.

Jobless claims for the week ended Oct. 29 were left unrevised at 265,000, which was the highest level since early August.

Initial claims have remained below 300,000 for 88 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1970--when the workforce and U.S. population were far smaller than they are today.

Still, data on unemployment-benefit applications can be volatile from week to week. The four-week moving average for initial claims rose last week by 1,750 to 259,750.

The Labor Department said no special factors affected the latest claims data.

The broader U.S. job market has posted steady if unspectacular gains in recent months. Nonfarm employers added 161,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.9%, while average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose at the fastest year-over-year pace since the recession, the Labor Department reported last week.

"The labor market has, by and large, had a pretty good year," Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said last week. He added that he believed the labor market was "close to full employment."

The most recent claims data reflected economic conditions ahead of Tuesday's presidential election.

Thursday's report showed continuing unemployment claims, drawn by workers for longer than a week, rose by 18,000 to 2,041,000 in the week ended Oct. 29. The continuing-claims data are released with a one-week lag.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims fell to 2,039,500, which was its lowest level since July 1, 2000.

The Labor Department's report on jobless claims can be accessed at:

Write to Ben Leubsdorf at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 10, 2016 08:45 ET (13:45 GMT)

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