The number of U.S. workers signing up for state unemployment aid edged down last week, the government said on Thursday in a report that showed improvements in the still-weak labor market amid a spotty economic recovery. 

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell by 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 411,000 for the week ended May 4. That was a bit higher than the 405,000 initial claims Wall Street economists in a Reuters poll forecast and continued, now with a seven-week stretch, to hover above the key 400,000 level analysts consider recessionary. 

Labor said the number of workers seeking extended benefits under an economic stimulus bill declined. But while the number of first-time claimants and those seeking extended benefits has been decreasing over the past few weeks, those who are jobless are staying that way, the report showed. 

This number of so-called continued claims hit its highest level in more than 19 years, rising by 61,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.8 million for the week ended April 27, the most recent week the data were available. 

The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims, considered more reliable because it irons out weekly fluctuations, decreased to 428,000 last week from 436,500, but it was the sixth straight week this key measure of employment conditions stood above 400,000.