The number of people filing initial claims for U.S. employment benefits last week fell 30,000 to its lowest level in a month because of fewer claims from the automobile industry, the government said on Thursday.

New claims for state jobless benefits fell to 304,000 in the week ended July 15, from a an upwardly revised 334,000 new applications in the previous week, the Labor Department said.

The weekly jobs data, which gives an early reading on the resilience of the labor market, was well below Wall Street expectations of 320,000 claims. The department originally reported claims at 332,000 in the July 8 week.

Two weeks ago jobless claims rose 20,000 as auto plants closed for their annual summer maintenance. A Labor Department analyst said the bulk of last week's decline was due to fewer claims filed in the automobile industry.

The four-week moving average of new jobless claims, regarded by economists as a more accurate reflection of the labor market than the more-volatile weekly number, also fell, dropping to 316,750 from 318,000 the prior week.

The number of Americans already on unemployment benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid rose to 2.51 million, the highest since early February, in the week ended July 8, which is the latest period this data are available