The number of new jobless claims fell last week, pointing to a slower pace of layoffs, according to government data released on Thursday.
Initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits fell 12,000 to 334,000 in the week ended June 8, reaching the lowest level since early May, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.
The average of new claims over four weeks, which smooths weekly swings, declined by 7,250 to 345,250.
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a seasonally adjusted initial claims figure of 350,000, compared with 346,000 in the prior week.
The data "continue to show no pickup in job cuts due to the sequester," Andrew Grantham, an economist at CIBC World Markets, said referring to the government spending cuts.
Continuing claims, which are issued with a one-week lag, ticked up 2,000 to 2.97 million. The four-week average of continuing claims, which reflect the number of people already receiving benefits, fell 12,750 to 2.97 million, hitting the lowest level since April 2008.
Since January, overall applications have fallen 6.5 percent.
The latest data point to an employment environment that continues to slowly heal. Last week the government reported nonfarm employment expanded by 175,000 jobs in May, compared with a gain of 149,000 in April. But the U.S. is still missing 2.4 million jobs compared with the start of the Great Recession.
"Through the volatility, claims continue to signal an improving labor market," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. "The claims data have been reinforcing our view that accommodative monetary policy is offsetting fiscal drag."
Data released earlier this week show less competition for jobs and an increased willingness to quit, but still muted levels of hiring. Employers added 175,000 jobs in May, the Labor Department said last week. That nearly matched the monthly average for the previous year. The unemployment rate ticked up to 7.6 percent.-- With AP