The number of Americans filing initial claims for jobless benefits dropped by 4,000 last week.
The four-week moving average was 450,500, a drop of 9,000 from the previous week's revised average of 459,500. Economists pay closer attention to the four-week average because it smooths out fluctuations.
Jobless claims tend to indicate the pace of layoffs, and watchers say the level of new claims must get below 425,000 and stay there for several weeks to signal that the economy is actually adding jobs on a systemic level.
The decrease was welcome news, but less than the five-figure decline that economists were expecting.
Total claims down
The total number of people claiming unemployment benefits in state programs totalled 4,515,632, a decline of 140,708 from the preceding week. In the same week a year ago, the total number was 6,191,149.
The figure does not include millions of people who have used up the 26 weeks of benefits they are entitled to under normal state programs and who are now receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks.
Those benefits are paid for by the federal government as part of its emergency stimulus measures.
Thirty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are now processing extended benefit claims that Congress approved mutiple times in 2009.