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US weekly jobless claims unexpectedly fall

WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting that job growth remained strong in March.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 210,000 for the week ended March 16, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 215,000 claims in the latest week.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left its policy rate unchanged in the 5.25%-5.50% range, but policymakers indicated they still expected to trim it by three-quarters of a percentage point by the end of the year.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters that he did not see "cracks" in the labor market, which he described as "in good shape," noting that "the extreme imbalances that we saw in the early parts of the pandemic recovery have mostly been resolved."

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Labor market resilience is helping to underpin the economy, which continues to outshine its global peers. Despite a flurry of high-profile layoffs at the start of the year, employers have largely been hoarding labor after struggling to find workers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed business establishments for the nonfarm payrolls portion of March's employment report. They have been hovering at low levels so far this month. The economy added 275,000 jobs in February.

Data next week on the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid, a proxy for hiring, will offer more clues on the health of the labor market in March. The so-called continuing claims increased 4,000 to 1.807 million during the week ending March 9, Thursday's claims report showed. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)