The number of Americans seeking initial jobless benefits eased a slight 2,000 last week, the government said Thursday.

Claims have hovered in a narrow range the past four weeks reflecting the traditional end-of-summer slowdown in job market movement during August.

The Labor Department said first-time jobless claims -- a rough gauge to the job market and the pace of layoffs -- fell to 389,000 in the Aug. 17 week from a revised 391,000 in the prior week.

Recent moves in claims have mirrored a pattern of small-scale changes that occurred during the same four-week period a year ago.

Wall Street economists had forecast new claims to fall to 386,000 from the original measure of 388,000 in the Aug. 10 week.

Paul Ferley, an assistant chief economist with the Harris Bank/Bank of Montreal, said the report shows "there isn't a lot of new hirings going on and the level is still indicative of a flat labor market."

However, Ferley said "we remain optimistic as we move into the fourth quarter that the employment numbers will start to pick up, and that a stimulative measure in place will do the trick to keep growth sufficiently strong."

A more reliable barometer of employment trends, the closely watched four-week moving average which irons out week-to-week volatility, climbed a modest 5,750 to 388,350 in the Aug. 17 week.

The number of workers continuing to file for benefits held steady at 3.52 million in the week ended Aug. 10, the latest week for which data were available.

In the week ended Aug. 10 -- the latest week for which state-by-state figures are available -- the department said two states reported a decrease exceeding 1,000, led by Texas with 2,621 fewer layoffs in the trade, service and manufacturing industries.

In the same week, eight states reported an increase in claims of 1,000 or more, led by Iowa with 1,910 more layoffs. However, that state gave no reasons for the increase.