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In this file photo, a sign instructs job seekers at the California Employment Development Department in Sunnyvale, Calif.Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped for a second straight week last week, unwinding some of the storm-related surge, which has muddled the labour market picture.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 393,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised up to show 6,000 more applications than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 390,0000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labour market trends, increased 7,500 to 405,250, the highest level since October last year.

Superstorm Sandy, which ripped through the East Coast in late October, has distorted initial claims data in recent weeks, making it hard to get a clear pulse of the labour market.

A Labor Department official said there was no pronounced impact of the storm in last week's data, adding that claims also tended to be volatile around this time of year.

The labour market improved in October, with employers adding 171,000 jobs to their payrolls, up from 148,000 the prior month. Economists say stripping out the three states – New York Connecticut and New Jersey – hardest hit by the storm, new applications for state unemployment benefits have been steady.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 70,000 to 3.29 million in the week ended Nov. 17. So-called continuing claims covered the week of the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived.

The jobless rate increased by a tenth of a percentage point to 7.9 per cent in October, as more Americans – including those who had given up the search for work – entered the labour market.

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