Apr 25, 2013 11:49 AM EDT

Weekly US Unemployment Benefit Applications at Second-Lowest Level in 5 years

Claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to slight improvement in the job market.

Those seeking unemployment aid fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the second-lowest level in more than five years.

Applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 16,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average declined 4,500 to 357,500.

The figure was close to the post-recession low of 334,000 recorded in early March. Last week marked only the second time since February 2008 that initial jobless claims fell below 340,000.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a less volatile measure of labor market trends, fell 4,500 to 357,500.

The data vary from week to week, but nevertheless, the initial claims report is considered one of the most important gauges of the job market's strength. During the height of the financial crisis in 2009, jobless claims rose as high as 670,000.

Meanwhile, about 3 million people filed for their second week or more of unemployment benefits two weeks ago, the most recent data available. 

In March, employers added only 88,000 jobs. That was a sharp drop from the previous four months, when hiring averaged 220,000 per month.

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