New claims for unemployment benefits dipped to 266,000 in the first week of August, the Department of Labor reported Thursday, a sign that the labor market recovery still has momentum.

Investors had expected claims to sink from 269,000 last week to 265,000.

Low jobless claims suggest few layoffs and ongoing job growth. Investors and policymakers look to the weekly numbers of claims coming from state unemployment offices for a real-time gauge of the health of the jobs market and economy.

Economists reckon that claims under the 300,000 mark go along with growing payrolls and falling unemployment. New claims haven't eclipsed that mark in 75 weeks, the longest such streak since 1970, when the labor force was much smaller.

"The U.S. economy should beclose to full employment by the end of this year," PNC economist Gus Faucher wrote in a note on Thursday's numbers. "The tighter job market is pushing wages higher, in turn supporting growth in consumer spending."

Job gains have been strong in recent months as jobless claims have hovered around ultra-low levels. In the past three months the U.S. has averaged 190,000 new jobs, about twice as much as needed to keep the unemployment rate trending down.

Thursday's report is one indication that the jobs situation could be improving through the November elections, but also that the Federal Reserve could be convinced enough that the economy is nearing full capacity to raise interest rates this fall.