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By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly 8-1/2 years last week, suggesting the labor market recovery was gaining traction. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 284,000 for the week ended July 19, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The data provided further confirmation that the labor market is tightening. "This is consistent with another payroll reading for July, but it will probably not be as strong as June," said Sam Bullard, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.