New jobless claims by U.S. workers fell to 631,000 in the past week, the Labor Department said May 21 in a report slightly worse than expected by most analysts.
The agency said seasonally adjusted initial claims in the week to May 16 dropped by 12,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 643,000.
Analysts had expected the number of requests for weekly unemployment benefits to be around 625,000.
A labor official said the newly unemployed were mostly from the troubled auto industry, where top players General Motors and Chrysler were undergoing major restructuring as a prolonged recession took a heavy toll on the world's largest economy.
The weekly initial claims data, a snapshot on the labor market, has shown new claims above the 600,000 level for about three months as the country grapples with a severe recession but is down from a peak of 674,000 in late March.
The four-week moving average was 628,500, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average of 632,000.
The report showed the insured unemployment rate rose 0.1 points to 5% for the week ending May 9 -- the first time it has hit that level since 1982.
That meant the number collecting jobless benefits was 6,662,000, an increase of 75,000 from the preceding week.
The latest monthly snapshot showed the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 8.9% in April with 539,000 jobs lost.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009