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In this April 7, 2009 photo, job seekers line up at a National Career Fair outside a Holiday Inn in Long Beach, Calif.Richard Vogel

The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly four years last week, according to a government report that showed ongoing healing in the labour market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, the lowest since April 2008, the Labour Department said on Thursday.

"The claims data are consistent with modest job growth in March," said Yelena Shulyatyeva, and economist at BNP Paribas in New York.

Futures for U.S. stocks pared losses following the data's publication while prices on U.S. government debt trimmed gains. The euro extended losses against the dollar.

Thursday's weekly claims report has no direct relationship to the March employment report due on Friday because the data for the monthly report was gathered earlier in the month.

But the claims data could bolster the case that the healing labour market is lowering the need for the Federal Reserve to do more to boost growth.

Economists polled by Reuters expect the employment report will show the U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs last month, notching up a fourth straight month of solid job.

That would mark the longest stretch of monthly employment gains topping 200,000 since 1999.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labour market trends, declined 4,250 to 361,750.

Employers also appear optimistic enough to cut layoffs further. The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell in March to the lowest level in 10 months, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Regarding Thursday's report on jobless claims, a Labour Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.

The prior week's figure was revised up to 363,000 from the previously reported 359,000. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a claims reading of 355,000 for last week.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 16,000 to 3.338 million in the week ended March 24, the lowest since August 2008.

A total of 7.05 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week ended March 17 under all programs, down 107,760 from the prior week.