Initial claims for US unemployment insurance benefits fell last week, a further sign of recovery in the labor market, according to government data released Thursday.
First-time jobless claims totaled 302,000 in the week ending July 12, a drop of 3,000 from the prior week's number.
The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 to 305,000.
The four-week moving average fell by 3,000 to 309,000, the lowest claims level for the average since early June 2007.
The labor market in the first half of the year has been the strongest since the 2008-2009 Great Recession. The economy has added an average of 231,000 jobs each month since January, helping to pull the unemployment rate down to 6.1 percent in June.
A year ago, the four-week moving average stood at 345,250 claims.
Last week's decline in claims, an indicator of the pace of layoffs, was unexpected. Analysts' consensus estimate was for claims to increase to 311,000.
Nomura analysts noted that initial jobless claims continue to linger below 320,000.
"This suggests that layoffs have bottomed out and also corroborates the strong payroll growth and declines in the unemployment rate we have seen this year," they said in a research note.