The number of Americans filing initial claims for jobless aid dipped last week, the government said on Thursday, but the drop was much smaller than expected on Wall Street.

First-time claims for state unemployment benefits fell 9,000 to 353,000 in the week ended April 17, the Labor Department (search) said.

While the decline would normally suggest the pace of layoffs had eased, a sharp rise the week before made the figures harder to interpret.

Analysts had said the increase in claims in the April 10 week reflected difficulties in adjusting the data for seasonal quirks around the Easter holiday and had expected claims to post a sizable decline.

Economists polled ahead of the latest report forecast claims to drop to 340,000 from the 360,000 previously reported for the prior week.

While initial claims slipped last week, a four-week moving average of filings, which smooths weekly fluctuation to provide a better picture of underlying trends, rose by 2,250 to 347,000.

It was the second straight gain in the four-week average and brought the reading to its highest level since late February, suggesting the pace of layoffs was no longer slowing.

The number of unemployed on the benefit rolls after claiming an initial week of aid rose by 52,000 to 3.02 million in the week ended April 10, the latest for which figures are available.

The increase in so-called continued claims, which followed two consecutive weekly drops, indicated workers were still having some difficulty finding new jobs.