US unemployment rate falls sharply in February
Job seekers line up to meet with a recruiter (AFP)

New claims for US unemployment insurance fell last week after two weeks of gains amid severe winter weather, Labor Department data showed Thursday.

Initial jobless claims fell 11 percent to 289,000 in the week ending March 7. The previous week's level was revised up by 5,000 to 325,000.

"Harsher-than-usual winter weather likely boosted the level in the previous two weeks," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, in a research note.

"We doubt the underlying trend in claims has changed significantly. A sub-300K trend in claims implies continued strong employment growth and no let-up in the downtrend in the unemployment rate."

In February, the unemployment rate fell two tenths of a point to 5.5 percent, the lowest rate since May 2008, on another month of solid job growth.

The four-week moving average of jobless claims, which helps to smooth week-over-week volatility fell by 3,750 to 302,250, the Labor Department said. A year ago, the claims average was 331,250.