Initial weekly unemployment claims plunged to 264,000 from 287,000 a week ago.

"This is the lowest level for initial claims since April 15, 2000, when it was 259,000," the Department of Labor noted.

This was also much lower than the 290,000 expected by economists.

"In one word: Spectacular," Pantheon Macroeconomics' Ian Shepherdson said. "Whether claims can be sustained at such a low level - an all-time low, as a share of payroll employment - is debatable, given that the prior trend was about 295K, but this is a clear signal of real strength in the labor market."

This brought the four-week moving average down to 283,500, the lowest level since June 10, 2000.

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