WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) – New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 to 271,000 in the seven days ended August 22, the first decline after four straight weekly gains. The latest report on initial claims indicate the labor market is still improving. initial claims have clung below the key 300,000 threshold for 25 weeks, the longest stretch in more than 15 years. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast initial claims to fall to 270,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged up by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 272,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Continuing jobless claims increased by 13,000 to 2.27 million in the week ended Aug. 15. These claims reflect people already receiving unemployment checks.