The number of people seeking state unemployment benefits fell for the second straight week, to the lowest level since May 2008, government data showed on Thursday, suggesting the labor market recovery is gaining momentum.

The Labor Department says new claims in the week ended Dec. 10 fell by 19,000 to 366,000.Jobless claims have registered below the key 400,000 mark -- a level historically associated with an improving labor market - in five of the past six weeks. Economists polled by Reuters called for an increase of 9,000 to 390,000.

Today's data showed the four-week moving average, considered a less volatile measure of the labor market trends, came in at 387,750, a decrease of 6,500 from the previous week's revised average of 394,250.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits after an initial week of aid rose by 4,000 in the week ended Dec. 3 to 3.6 million. The four-week moving average was 3.67 million, a decrease of 5,000 from the preceding week's revised average of 3.7 million.

The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

The Federal Reserve said Tuesday it continues to expect a moderate pace of economic growth over coming quarters and consequently anticipates that the unemployment rate will decline only gradually.