For the third straight week, new claims for unemployment benefits fell. Initial jobless claims fell by 7,000 in the week ending May 1, heading toward the lowest levels in a year.
The total number of Americans starting to claim benefits fell to 444,000, down from a revised figure of 451,000 from the week before.
The claims figures come ahead of May 7's all-important monthly jobs report, tracking employment for April.
Patrick O'Hare of Briefing.com said the figures could not necessarily predict the April numbers. "Still, two messages continue to resonate: (1) the trend in initial claims continues to improve and (2) it is still difficult to find full-time work," O'Hare said.
Also on May 6, the Labor Department reported that non-farm productivity rose by a higher-than-expected 3.6% in the first quarter of 2010. Higher productivity figures may contribute to flat job figures, allowing employers to expand their output without hiring new staff.
Observers had expected productivity to rise by 2.4%, but analysts at Natixis said the rise "was not surprising as economic activity improved."
"However, the second rise in a row in hours worked as well as in compensation per hour confirmed the improvement of the job market," they said.
The Labor Department said the rise in productivity outpaced gains in hourly wages, which rose by just 1.9% over the same period.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010