Applicants

Applicants fill out forms during a job fair at the Southeast LA-Crenshaw WorkSource Center in Los Angeles November 20, 2009.REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

WASHINGTON  - The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for jobless insurance unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level in more than 14 months, government data showed on Thursday, pointing to a moderation in the pace of job losses.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 in the week ended November 28 from a downwardly revised 462,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said. Claims have dropped for five consecutive weeks.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 480,000 from a previously reported 466,000.

The report covers the Thanksgiving holiday and a Labor Department economist said both actual and seasonally adjusted claims were down.

The labor market is viewed as the biggest threat to the economy's recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s. New filings for jobless aid are being watched for signs of when job losses might bottom.

Applications have dropped significantly from March's high levels, but are still above the 400,000 mark that analysts say would signal payrolls growth.

The four-week moving average for new claims fell 14,250 to 481,250 last week, the lowest level since November last year, and declining for the 13th straight week. The four-week moving average is considered a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility.

However, the number of workers still collecting benefits after an initial week of aid rose 28,000 to 5.47 million in the week ended Nov 21, after declining for 10 straight weeks. This was below market expectations for 5.48 million.

So-called continuing claims are down from a peak of 6.9 million in June. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 75,750 to 5.54 million. The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, was unchanged at 4.1 percent in the week ended November 21.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)