The number of U.S. workers seeking first-time jobless benefits edged down last week, the government said Thursday in a report highlighting a brighter labor market as the recession-hit economy recovers.

The number of initial jobless claims edged down to a seasonally adjusted 377,000 for the week ended March 9 from 380,000 the previous week, about in line with analysts' expectations.

It was the 10th consecutive week initial claims remained below the key 400,000 level that analysts consider recessionary.

"I think that we are even more conclusively in a recovery," said economist Mark Vitner of Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, N.C. "It's really hard to deny the fact that the economy has taken a turn for the better."

The four-week moving average, a more reliable measure because it irons out weekly gyrations, also showed a generally positive trend. The average edged up slightly to 374,750 from 373,750 a week earlier but remained substantially below levels seen earlier in the year.

While labor prospects clearly were beginning to look better, there was room for improvement as many jobless workers remain on the unemployment rolls, the report showed.

The number of continued claims climbed to 3.5 million for the week ended March 2, the most recent week the data were available, from 3.4 million in the prior week. It was the highest level recorded for continued claims since early January.