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National Guard soldiers returning to Willmar on Saturday after 10-month deployment

U.S. jobless claims fall for second straight week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a second week last week, suggesting labor market conditions continue to steadily improve.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 3,000 more applications received than previously reported.

The four-week moving average for new claims rose 8,500 to 357,250 as the holiday-related volatility lingers.

A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated. While claims data continue to be plagued by seasonal volatility, there has been an acceleration in job growth.

Against the backdrop of a firming jobs market and brightening economic outlook, the Federal Reserve in December announced it would reduce its monthly $85 billion bond buying program by $10 billion starting this month.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 98,000 to 2.83 million in the week ended December 21.

Benefits for more than a million long-term unemployed Americans expired on December 28, which could see a sharp decline in the total number of people receiving benefits under all programs from 4.46 million in the week ended Dec 14.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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