WASHINGTON – The number of Americans filing an initial claim for jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level since early February, the government said on Thursday in a sign the labor market is starting to improve.
First-time filings for state unemployment aid fell 4,000 in the week ending Oct. 11 to 384,000 from the previous week. The number was broadly in line with analysts' expectations that claims would be 388,000.
It was the second week in a row that claims came in under 400,000. Economists say claims above 400,000 suggest a deteriorating jobs market.
The drop also brought a decline in the closely watched four-week moving average of initial filings, seen as more reliable because it irons out weekly fluctuations.
The department said the average fell 4,250 to 390,750, also the lowest since early February.
While the report suggested layoffs are slowing, it also showed unemployed workers are still having a tough time finding new jobs. For the week ended Oct. 4, the number of Americans claiming benefits after filing an initial claim climbed 58,000 to 3.67 million.
The labor market has lagged other areas of the economy. But recent reports have been encouraging for job seekers. In September, the economy created 57,000 new jobs, the first increase in eight months.
But in a Reuters poll on Wednesday, analysts said they see scant prospect of a meaningful fall in U.S. unemployment for months to come.