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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. I don't think it suggests that housing is heading south." Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 284,000 for the week ended July 19, the lowest level since February 2006, the Labor Department said. Though claims are volatile around this time of the month because of summer auto plant shutdowns for retooling, the data provided further evidence that the labor market was tightening.