The number of Americans filing initial claims for jobless aid fell a bit more than expected last week, a government report showed on Thursday, but part of the decline was tied to the funeral for late President Ronald Reagan (search).

First-time filings for state unemployment benefits fell 15,000 to 336,000 in the week ended June 12, their lowest level since early May, the Labor Department (search) said.

Wall Street economists had expected claims to edge lower to 345,000 from the 352,000 previously reported for the June 5 week. The larger-than-expected drop adds further evidence of a strengthening jobs market.

A Labor Department spokesman said 15 states had closed their unemployment benefit offices last Friday in honor of Reagan's funeral. He said "a portion" of last week's decline in initial claims could be pinned on those closures.

A four-week moving average of claims (search), which smooths weekly volatility to provide a better picture of underlying trends, slipped 2,750 to 343,250. The average has been hovering since early March near levels not seen since early 2001, before the economy tipped into recession.

A drop in the overall number of unemployed workers on the benefit rolls has underscored the more upbeat labor market.

In the week ended June 5, the latest week for which data are available, the number of so-called continued claims filed rose by 31,000 to 2.9 million. However, that is coming off the lowest level since May 2001.