New claims for US jobless benefits tumbled in mid-July to their lowest level in two months, further evidence of a persistently tight labour market, according to Labour Department data released today.

The data suggested the US unemployment rate could remain near the current 4.4%, because the information was collected during the survey week used to gather data for the monthly jobs report.

For the week ending 15 July, new claims for unemployment insurance fell 15,000 from the prior week to a seasonally adjusted 233,000, seasonally adjusted, matching a result recorded in May, according to the weekly report. The level has not been lower since February.

Analysts were expecting a decrease of only 3,000.

Weekly claims have been below 300,000 for 124 weeks, the longest streak recorded since 1970, and below 250,000 for 15 of the past 20 weeks.

The less volatile four-week moving average also fell 2,250 to 243,750 claims.

Though it can see big swings from week to week, the jobless claims report can be used to gauge the prevalence of layoffs and the health of labour markets.

But the US economic engine has pumped out new jobs every month without interruption for nearly seven years, reducing the supply of available workers and making employers reluctant to lay off employees who may not be replaceable.

Anecdotal reports indicate companies are struggling to find qualified workers, increasing pressure to raise wages, which has helped persuade the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates twice this year despite persistently weak inflation.