The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless aid fell
12,000 last week, Labor Department data showed on Thursday, while
so-called continued claims rose to a fresh record as the recession
battered employment.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits declined to
a seasonally adjusted 631,000 in the week ended May 16 from a revised
643,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said. New claims have
declined in three of the last four weeks.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 630,000 new claims versus a previously reported count of 637,000 the week before.

U.S. stock index futures added to losses after the data, while U.S.
government bond prices were higher and the dollar was unchanged.

I think the numbers continue to show a weak economy, said Subodh
Kumar, chief investment strategist at Subodh Kumar & Associates in

The companies that bring their costs under control will be the
first to start hiring, but I don't think we'll see that a lot until the
third or fourth quarter, he said.

The most severe U.S. recession in decades has already cost over 5
million jobs since it began in late 2007, and despite recent declines
in the claims data suggesting the pace of deterioration in employment
conditions is slowing, the labor market remains in dire shape.

The number of people staying on benefit rolls after drawing an
initial week of aid increased by 75,000 to a more-then-forecast 6.662
million in the week ended May 9, the most recent week for which data is
available. Analysts estimated so-called continued claims would be 6.65

It was the 16th consecutive week that continued claims had risen to
a fresh record high and this pushed the seasonally adjusted insured
unemployment rate to 5.0 percent from 4.9 percent the week before, the
Labor Department said.

But the four-week average of new jobless claims, a closely watched
gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week
volatility, fell to 628,500 from 632,000 the week before. The four-week
average has now dropped in five out of the last six weeks.

I am pleased that we've got the four-week average in jobless claims
beginning to move down again, said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ
Economics in New York.

But I still think we need a more convincing decline to signal from
the jobless claims perspective that the recession has bottomed out,
Ryding said.

A Labor Department official said there were no special factors
affecting last week's numbers. A number of states that reported
increased claims from automobile industry layoffs the week before
showed declining claims last week, he said.