New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell below 400,000 last week for the first time in five weeks and a trend reading also edged lower, suggesting a modest improvement in the still-moribund labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 9,000 in the week ending October 29 to a seasonally adjusted 397,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The government raised slightly its estimate for claims filed during the prior week to 406,000.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging down to 400,000 from the previously reported 402,000.
The level of weekly claims remains well above pre-recession levels and has dipped below 400,000 only on brief occasions this year, suggesting no fast turnaround is imminent for the jobs market.
A Labor Department official said the government had to estimate claims for two states -- Connecticut and Oklahoma -- but believed the estimates did not affect the overall report.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, fell 2,000 to 404,500.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 15,000 to 3.683 million in the week ended October 22.
Economists had forecast so-called continuing claims at 3.69 million.
A total of 6.782 million people were claiming unemployment benefits in the week ended October 15, up from 6.679 million during the prior week.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)