U.S. jobless claims fell sharply last week to 391,000 -- their lowest level since April, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The previous week's new claims for unemployment insurance -- a measure of the pace of business and government layoffs -- was 428,000.
Although the figure is seasonally adjusted, a Labor Department statistics official pointed to the frequent volatility of the data as the likely reason for the big drop, rather than a change in the overall employment situation.
"I think this is more of a technical issue in terms of decline," the official said.
"It's a seasonal factor that leads to a big drop of the seasonally adjusted value."
It was the best figure since the week to April 2, when new claims fell to 385,000. Since then they haven't fallen below 399,000, with the average of the past four weeks 417,000.
With the national jobless rate still a high 9.1%, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told an audience Wednesday that the unemployment situation is "a national crisis."
He said the central bank has made "enormous efforts" to try to reverse the economic decline and that "monetary policy can do a lot" to help.
"But monetary policy is not a panacea" for government actions, he said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011