Weekly U.S. jobless claims fell for the second consecutive week but remained above the 400,000 threshold, signaling weak hiring amid a fragile economic recovery, official data showed Thursday.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to 409,000 in the week ending May 14, down by 29,000 from the prior week's revised number, the U.S. Labor Department said.
The drop was stronger than expected; most analysts had forecast 420,000 claims would be filed.
It was the second straight weekly decline since late April, when new claims hit a nine-month high of 478,000.
Experts point out the weekly series of seasonally adjusted claims numbers have been skewed recently by a number of factors, including severe U.S. weather conditions.
Still, claims have remained stuck above 400,000 since early April.
The four-week moving average, which smooths weekly fluctuations, rose to 439,000 last week, a gain of 1,250 claims from the previous week.
"There is a little comfort in the initial claims figure falling back close to the 400,000 mark but we need to see this series move decisively back below that level before we can sound the all clear," said John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros at RDQ Economics.
U.S. officials and economists say high unemployment remains a key challenge to getting the world's largest economy back on track after the worst recession in decades ended almost two years ago.
The unemployment rate rose to 9.0% in April after falling for four straight months.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011