The ranks of Americans filing initial claims for jobless aid thinned by 6,000 last week, the government said Thursday, while a closely watched gauge of labor trends fell to a five-month low.

A total of 308,000 workers filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits in the week ended Aug. 6 vs. a revised 314,000 the prior week, the Labor Department (search) said.

The drop in claims defied Wall Street (search) expectations for a rise to 315,000 from the original reading of 312,000 in the week ended July 30.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors behind the decline.

The four-week moving average, regarded by economists as a truer reflection of the labor market than the more volatile weekly figure, fell for the fourth straight week, dropping to 309,250 from 316,500 the previous week.

This was the lowest level for the four-week measure since Feb. 26.

In another positive sign for the job market, the number of people who stayed on the benefit rolls (search) after drawing an initial week of aid also declined.