Initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits fell last week to the lowest level this year, the Labor Department said on April 1.
New jobless claims dropped to 439,000 in the week ending March 27, from a revised 445,000 in the prior week. That marked the second straight week of decline.
Last week's number was the lowest since the beginning of the year and matched that of the first week of February. The last time there was a smaller number of claims was in August 2008, before the collapse of Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial meltdown.
The report underscored a trend of slow stabilization in the jobs market, where unemployment is hovering near double digits.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which smooths out weekly volatility, fell to 447,250 last week from the prior week's revised average of 454,000.
The weekly jobless claims data came on the eve of the Labor Department's highly anticipated monthly jobs data that could suggest the strength of the nation's nascent recovery from the worst recession in decades.
The department is expected to report on April 2 that March nonfarm payrolls rose 190,000, after a decline of 36,000 in February, and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7%.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010