The number of Americans filing first claims for jobless pay fell 3,000 last week, the Labor Department (search) said on Thursday in a report showing no impact from Hurricane Charley (search) which struck Florida last Friday.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits (search) dipped to 331,000 in the week ended Aug. 14, their third straight weekly drop, from a revised 334,000 in the previous week, the department said.

Wall Street economists had expected new claims to rise slightly to 335,000 from the originally reported 333,000 for the Aug. 7 week.

Florida's state unemployment agency did not indicate there were any effects from Hurricane Charley in last week's data as the hurricane struck on the last day of the reporting week, the Labor Department said.

Jobless claims may worsen in the weeks ahead as people in Florida who were forced out of their jobs due to the devastation of the storm begin to file for unemployment benefits, the department said.

A key gauge of jobless trends — the four-week moving average of claims — fell for the second consecutive week, to 337,000 from 339,500, suggesting the pace of layoffs has eased.

Economists usually view the four-week average as a more reliable yardstick of jobless trends because it evens out weekly fluctuations in the data.

The number of people who remained on the jobless rolls after collecting an initial week of benefits rose 16,000 to 2.90 million in the week ended Aug. 7, the latest for which figures are available.