Initial jobless claims decreased by 33,000 to 521,000 in the week ending Oct. 3, putting claims at their lowest level since Jan. 3, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Continuing claims fell by 72,000 to 6.040 million in the week ending Sept. 26, the lowest number of claims in a week since March.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters expected 540,000 initial claims and 6.100 million continuing claims.

The four-week moving average, a more stable measure of unemployment claims, has dropped for five straight weeks, sliding to 539,750 initial claims in the latest week. The four-week average for continuing claims has dropped two weeks in a row and was 6.144 million in the week ending Sept. 26.

Initial unemployment claims historically decline prior to the end of a quarter and increase in first weeks of a new quarter, a Labor Department official said. Some workers can see slightly better unemployment benefits by waiting to file in a new quarter, he said. The effect is calculated in the department’s seasonal factors for unemployment claims.

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