U.S. weekly jobless claims rise less than expected

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits increased less than expected last week, pointing to strong labor market conditions that should continue to support a moderately growing economy.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 208,000 for the week ended Sept. 14, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims increasing to 213,00 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday cut interest rates by another 25 basis points, citing risks to the longest economic expansion in history from a year-long trade war between the United States and China as well as slowing economic growth overseas.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said he expected the economy, now in its 11th year of expansion, to continue to "expand at a moderate rate." Powell said "the job market remains strong."

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, dipped 750 to 212,250 last week.

Despite trade tensions, which have weighed on business investment and manufacturing, layoffs remain low. But there are concerns that slowing job growth could take some shine off robust consumer spending, which is largely driving the economy.

Last week's claims data covered the survey period for the nonfarm payrolls component of September's employment report. The four-week moving average of claims fell 2,750 between the August and September survey periods suggesting a steady pace of job growth this month.

The economy created 130,000 jobs in August. Economists say it is unclear whether the loss of momentum in hiring is due to ebbing demand for labor or a shortage of qualified workers.

Job gains have averaged 158,000 per month this year, still above the roughly 100,000 per month needed to keep up with growth in the working age population.

Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 13,000 to 1.66 million for the week ended Sept. 7. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 3,750 to 1.68 million.

((Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci))

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