The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped to the almost the lowest level in seven years last week.

The U.S. Department of Labour said Thursday that weekly applications for jobless aid dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjust level of 304,000. Economists polled by Bloomberg had been expecting the figure to come in at around 315,000.

That's just off the level of 298,000 hit in May, before the numbers ticked higher again. May's level was the lowest figure seen since August 2007, before the global recession started.

Several states saw large increases in applications for jobless benefits including:

  • New Jersey (8,579 more)
  • Massachusetts (4,566)
  • Connecticut (1,409)
  • Michigan (983)
  • New York (916)

Meanwhile, several states saw large declines, including:

  • California (7.294 fewer claims)
  • Pennsylvania (-4,608)
  • Illinois (-1,243)
  • Maryland (-1,092) 
  • Wisconsin (-1,063)

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the low readings indicate that employers are letting go of fewer workers. "Jobless claims remain very subdued, pointing to labour market upside," Scotiabank said in a research note.

The total number of Americans receiving jobless benefits sat at 2.58 million people last week. That figure is up by 10,000, but down from 4.5 million this time last year.

"The ... data remain extremely encouraging," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.​

The figures, combined with data last month that showed America's jobless rate dropped to a six-year low in June, are the latest sign that the job market is steadily improving. Employers are adding jobs at a healthy clip and the unemployment rate is at a 5 1/2-year low.

But the steady hiring gains have yet to spur big increases in wages, which have barely kept pace with inflation since the end of the recession five years ago.

With files from The Associated Press