The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance fell slightly less than expected last week, government data showed on Thursday, implying a measured job market recovery.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 444,000 in the week ended May 1, the Labor Department said.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected claims to fall to 440,000 from the previously reported 448,000, which was slightly revised up to 451,000 in Thursday's report. A labor department official described the report as uneventful, but said they had to make estimates for Tennessee because of floods which had left the state unable to process claims.
The four-week moving average of new claims, considered a better measure of underlying job market trends, fell 4,750 to 458,500, after rising for four weeks.
The labor market is on the mend after taking a beating during the recession, but the recovery pace may be painfully slow for the 8.2 million Americans who lost their jobs during the worst downturn since the 1930s.
Thursday's claims data has no bearing on April's employment report due on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period.
A Reuters survey predicted non-farm payrolls increased 200,000 last month following March's 162,000 gain. The employment rate is expected to have held steady at 9.7 percent for a fourth month.
The number of people still receiving jobless benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 59,000 to 4.59 million in the week ended April 24, the Labor Department said.
The level was in line with market expectations for 4.60 million and so-called continuing claims fell for a third week.
The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, was unchanged at 3.6 percent in the week ended April 24, for a third week.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)