WASHINGTON - Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits plunged by 26,000 to 350,000 in the July 7 holiday week, the lowest level since 348,000 in the March 8, 2008 week, as the impact of auto retooling shutdowns was smaller than seasonal adjustment factors has expected, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The median estimate of economists surveyed by MNI was for 370,000, a drop of 4,000 from the initially reported 374,000 level in the June 30 week. That week's claims level was revised up slightly to 376,000.

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