The number of people filing for initial jobless aid fell 11,000 last week, the government said on Thursday, as the pace of layoffs slowed and the job market brightened.

Initial jobless claims (search) dropped to 336,000 in the week ended July 31 from a revised 347,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department (search) said. The drop was slightly larger than economists' expectations for a fall to 340,000 from the originally reported 345,000 for the previous week.

A Labor Department spokesman said the drop in new claims was not due to special factors and likely reflected an end to the volatility normally experienced in July.

The closely watched four-week moving average, which irons out weekly volatility, rose to 343,500 in the week ended July 31 from 336,750 in the previous week.

While new claims have bounced up and down since the beginning of the year, the overall trend is on the decline, suggesting the pace of layoffs has slowed.

The number of people who continue to collect benefits dropped 35,000 to 2.91 million in the July 24 week, the latest week for which figures are available.