The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits fell last week to 323,000, a decrease of 4,000 -- the lowest level since January 2008.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S expected, on average, claims for the seven days ended Saturday to rise to 335,000 from the previous week's 324,000.
For the seven days ended April 27, claims fell to 324,000, a decrease of 18,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 342,000. The four-week moving average was 342,000, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week's revised average of 358,250.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to fall as job growth accelerates. Job growth is measured by the monthly nonfarm payrolls report. The Labor Department reported Friday that payrolls expanded by 165,000 workers in April following a 138,000 gain in March. Revised figures added an additional 114,000 jobs to February and March tallies. With the unemployment rate at a four-year low of 7.5 percent, the third straight weekly decline in claims could signal a firming labor market.
However, the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released earlier this week showed job openings eased in March from the highest level in almost five years. Dismissals have dropped in 2013 as employers rely on existing staff to meet demand. Labor Department officials said there was nothing unusual that affected the drop in jobs claims, but what will happen next depends on how employers navigate the weaker sales anticipated for the current quarter.