New US claims for jobless benefits fell for the third week in a row, hitting their lowest level in nearly 49 years for the third straight week, the Labor Department said today. 

The new figures suggest the US economy's vigorous job creation continued unabated this month as the data were collected during the survey week for the department's more closely watched monthly jobs report, due out next week.

Amid a widely reported labour shortage, US employers are reluctant to lay off workers who are difficult to replace. 

For the week ended September 12, new claims for unemployment insurance fell to 201,000, down 3,000 from the previous week. Economists had instead been expecting a result of 209,000. 

The result was the lowest level since November of 1969, whereas the prior week's level had been the lowest since December 1969. 

However, economists say that in reality the levels are likely the lowest ever, given demographic changes in the US in the past half century.

Claims have now held below the symbolic level of 300,000 for more than three and a half years, the longest such streak ever recorded.

Though they can see big swings from week to week, jobless claims are an indication of the prevalence of layoffs and the health of jobs markets.

In a decade of economic recovery, the US has seen uninterrupted job creation, driving the unemployment rate to historical lows.

In light of these trends, the US Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise interest rates next week to prevent inflation from rising too quickly.