The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits edged down by 2,000 last week, the government said on Thursday in a report showing stability in the pace of layoffs.

The Labor Department said 316,000 unemployed workers filed initial claims for state unemployment aid in the week ended August 26, off from a revised 318,000 in the prior week.

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Wall Street economists had expected claims to edge up to 315,000 from the 313,000 originally reported for the week ended August 19.

Despite last week's drop, a four-week moving average that smooths weekly fluctuations to provide a better sense of underlying trends inched up 1,000 to 317,500.

The number of Americans who continued to file for benefits after an initial week of aid rose by 3,000 to 2.486 million in the week ended August 19, the latest for which figures are available.

Claims for new unemployment benefits have been range-bound for much of the year, indicating a steady pace of layoffs. Economists say, however, the relatively low level of firings does not necessarily provide a good signal on hiring trends.

The department issues its closely watched monthly report on payroll growth on Friday, which will provide further clues on the health of the job market.

Economists expect nonfarm payrolls expanded by a moderate 120,000 workers in August, up just slightly from July's pace. The unemployment rate is expected to have dipped to 4.7 percent from 4.8 percent in July.

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