The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits declined slightly last week, indicating continued strength in the labor market despite a spring slowdown in the economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for jobless benefits totaled 313,000 last week, a drop of 2,000 from the previous week.

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That was a slightly better performance than economists had been expecting. They had forecast that jobless claims would rise by 2,000.

The government is scheduled to report new unemployment figures on Friday. Analysts are expecting the jobless rate will remain at 4.6 percent and they believe businesses created 160,000 new jobs in June. That would be a significant rebound after only 75,000 jobs had been created in May, the smallest gain in seven months.

Economists believe the weak job growth in May overstated the slowdown in the job market but they are looking for more moderate gains in employment in the months ahead as the economy slows from the sizzling pace of the first three months of the year, when the economy expanded at a 5.6 percent rate.

A number of recent indicators have provided evidence that the economy slowed in the spring under the impact of surging gasoline prices, rising interest rates and a cooling housing market.

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