width=334WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance fell as expected last week, resuming a downward trend that had been interrupted by the Easter holiday, government data showed on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 456,000 in the week ended April 17, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected claims to fall to 455,000 from the previously reported 484,000, which was revised down to 480,000 in Thursday's report. The data covered the survey period for the government's closely monitored employment report for April, which will be released on May 7.

The four-week moving average of new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,750 to 460,250.

While initial claims and the four-week average are still above levels viewed by analysts as in line with job market stability, anecdotal evidence indicates employment is creeping up.

Last month, the economy recorded its largest jobs gain in three years, largely driven by private sector hiring as employers started to warm up to the economy's recovery -- which is showing signs of gathering momentum.

Analysts expect the hiring trend continued in April, also supported by recruitment for the 2010 census.

The number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 40,000 to 4.65 million in the week ended April 10, the Labor Department said. However, it was less than market expectations for a fall to 4.60 million and the prior week's figure was revised up.

The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, slipped to 3.6 percent in the week ended April 10 from 3.7 percent the prior week. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)