WASHINGTON (MNI) - Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by more than expected in the August 31 week, declining by 9,000 to 332,000 - a level that is just above a five-and-a-half year low, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Expectations for this week's report was for a claims level of 330,000, a decline of just 1,000 from the 331,000 previously reported for the August 24 week. Claims in that week were revised up to 332,000.

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