Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. workers filing first-time claims for state unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in more than 26 years in the week that ended April 15. Government figures released Thursday showed initial jobless claims dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 257,000, the lowest since the week that ended Dec. 1, 1973, when 256,000 claims were filed.

"The economy is white-hot," said Richard Yamarone, senior economist at Argus Research Corp. in New York. "We've heard testimony of difficulty in hiring and finding skilled labor. I would not be surprised to see claims fall further, perhaps to the 230,000 level by summer."

Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected 265,000 jobless claims. Claims the previous week rose a 4,000, to 266,000. The four-week average of claims - a less-volatile indicator - fell to 262,500 from, 264,000 the previous week.

"Claims are trending more than 8% below year-ago levels and should continue to trend lower in the next few months," said Scott Brown, an economist at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Since the year began, initial claims have averaged 274,067 a week, down from last year's average of 298,000.

"Labor market conditions remain tight and census hiring may add to near-term pressure," Mr. Brown said.

For the week ended April 8, the Labor Department said, 48 states or territories reported increases in new jobless claims, while five reported declines.

The number of people receiving unemployment benefits rose by 33,000, to 1.984 million. The insured unemployment rate was unchanged, a record-low 1.6%.

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