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A "Jobs" banner at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington in February. The jobless rate will be a key factor in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits edged down last week, according to government data on Thursday that could ease concerns the labour market was deteriorating after April's weak employment growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 368,000 from the previously reported 365,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims inching up to 369,000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, fell 5,250 to 379,000.

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Coming on the heels of April's sluggish employment gains, the claims data could calm fears the labour market was stagnating.

Companies added a meager 115,000 new jobs to their payrolls in April, the fewest in six months, the government reported last Friday.

Most economists have viewed the pull-back in job creation as payback after the weather-induced gains in the previous months and believe the underlying pace of payrolls growth is around 175,000 - the monthly average for the past three months.

Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last month said an unseasonably warm winter had probably brought forward some of the hiring by companies, artificially boosting payrolls in January and February.

A Labour Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level claims data and no states had been estimated.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 61,000 to 3.23 million in the week ended April 28. That was the lowest level since July 2008.

The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits fell 36,275 to 2.69 million in the week ended April 21, the latest week for which data is available. The number of people on extended benefits slipped 4,304 to 350,579.

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Some states are losing their eligibility for extended benefits and reducing the duration of emergency compensation. That could artificially push down the unemployment rate as people dropping off the benefits rolls give up the hunt for work.

A drop in the share of working-age Americans either with a job or looking for one to near a 30-1/2-year low pushed the jobless rate down to 8.1 per cent last month from 8.2 per cent in March.

A total of 6.42 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week ending April 21 under all programs, down 174,529 from the prior week.

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