WASHINGTON — Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by 26,000 to 359,000 in the September 22 week, the lowest level in nearly two months, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The median estimate of economists surveyed by MNI was for 378,000, a decrease of 8,000 from the initially reported 382,000 level in the September 15 week. That week's claims level was revised up by 3,000 to 385,000.

A labor analyst said there was "nothing unusual" in the claims data but there was some residual activity from hurricane Isaac which he characterized as "minor."

Continuing claims came in at 3.271 million after seasonal adjustment in the September 15 week, a decline of 4,000 from the previous week and 60,000 below the August 18 survey week when continuing claims were 3.331 million.

Unadjusted continuing claims fell 94,416 to 2,833,088 in the week, and remain below the 3,207,559 level in the comparable week a year ago.

A Labor Department analyst said that seasonal factors expected a decline of 2.4% or 8,000 in unadjusted claims in the September 22 week. Instead, unadjusted claims fell by 9.0% or 29,7000 to a level of 300,661 in the current week. Unadjusted claims were at a level of 328,073 in the comparable week a year ago.

The initial claims seasonally adjusted 4-week moving average was 374,000 in the September 22 week, a decline of 4,500 claims from the previous week.

The state data released for the September 15 week indicated unadjusted initial claims increased in 37 states and declined in 16 states, with no states unchanged. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands are included in this data.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate held steady at 2.6%, as it has since March, and is still down from the 3.0% rate in the comparable week a year earlier.

The unemployment rate among the insured labor force is well below that reported monthly by the Labor Department because claims are approved for the most part only for job losers, not the job leavers and labor force reentrants included in the monthly report.

The Labor Department said that the level of unadjusted Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits claims fell by 2,084 in the September 8 week, bringing that category total to 2,160,448.

The Labor Department reported that a total of 5,173,586 persons claimed unemployment benefits in the September 8 week, a decline of just 11 from the previous week and still well below the 6,983,307 persons in the comparable week a year ago. These data are not seasonally adjusted, and include regular state claims, federal employee claims, new veterans claims, the EUC and extended benefits programs, state additional benefits, and STC/Workshare claims.

Market News International is a real-time global news service for fixed-income and foreign exchange market professionals. See www.marketnews.com.

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