WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, dropping to its lowest level in nearly 45 years as the labor market tightened further, bolstering expectations of faster wage growth this year.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 221,000 for the week ended Feb. 3, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims fell to 216,000 in mid-January, which was the lowest level since January 1973.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 232,000 in the latest

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