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Jobless claims drop slightly, but hiring remains sluggish

Fewer Americans filed for jobless benefits in the latest week, government data showed Thursday, but overall the trend of weak hiring remained in place.

The Labor Department reported that new jobless claims dropped 3,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 382,000. The four-week moving average rose, however, by 2,000 to 375,750, the highest level since June. That average is considered a more accurate gauge of labor market conditions because it smooths out the often volatile weekly data.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 375,000 last week. A Labor Department official said there were no special factors influencing the report, adding that only claims data for New Mexico had been estimated.

There was also no sign the strike by about 29,000 teachers in Chicago had any impact, the official said.

Last week's report covered the period for September nonfarm payrolls survey. Claims have risen 8,000 between the August and September survey periods.

Employers added 96,000 jobs last month, a step down from July's 141,000 count. While the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent in August from 8.3 percent, it was because many Americans gave up the search for work.

Lackluster labor market conditions prompted the Federal Reserve last week to launch an aggressive stimulus program, with the U.S. central bank buying an additional $40 billion worth of mortgage backed securities each month until it sees a sustained upturn on the jobs front.

The unemployment rate has been stuck above 8 percent for more than three years, the first time this has happened since the Great Depression. The sluggish jobs market poses a hurdle to President Barack Obama's re-election.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 32,000 to 3.27 million in the week ended September 8, the claims report showed.

That was the lowest level since mid-May and most likely reflected people exhausting their benefits. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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