New claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week in a fresh sign that the ailing job market is slowly recovering, official data showed Thursday.
Initial jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 370,000 in the week ending May 19, the Labor Department said.
The prior week's number was revised upward by 2,000, leaving claims hovering in neutral, indicating a pause in layoffs.
The latest trend numbers showed a faster-improving situation. The four-week moving average was 370,000, down 5,500 claims from the previous week.
But the outlook is glacial, as employers remain reluctant to hire in the face of a fragile economic recovery.
"The inflow of new claims for unemployment insurance provide encouraging indications that the job-cuts side of the job-growth equation has slowed," said Jeffrey Greenberg, a Nomura economist.
"That said, the hiring side remains lackluster."
The unemployment rate fell to 8.1% in April as hundreds of thousands dropped out of the labor force, and only 115,000 jobs were created, the lowest number in six months.
High unemployment is a key obstacle in the fragile U.S. recovery, weighing on the consumer spending that drives about 70% of the nation's economic growth.
"The claims data point to a modest uptick in payroll growth in the May employment report scheduled for release on June 1," said Barclays analyst Michael Gapen.
Gapen predicted the Labor Department will report 150,000 net jobs were added, including 160,000 private payrolls, and the jobless rate fell to 8%.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012