RTTNews - The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits edged down last week, according to a report released by the Labor Department on Thursday, although jobless claims remain at a relatively high level.

Still, the size of the government's unemployment rolls fell for the fifth time in the last seven weeks, dropping to its lowest level in about 5 months.

The Labor Department said that initial jobless claims edged down to 570,000 in the week ended August 22nd from the previous week's revised figure of 580,000. Economists had been expecting jobless claims to slip to 565,000 from the 576,000 originally reported for the previous month.

Initial claims are off the recent low of 524,000 reached in mid-July, but they are still lingering below the 600,000 mark. Claims reached a cycle high of 674,000 in late March.

Peter Boockvar, equity strategist for Miller Tabak said, The labor market is definitely improved relative to the past few quarters, but the level of claims above 550,000 still remains at a level that is consistent with monthly job losses of 200,000-400,000 in the aggregate.

The report also showed that the less volatile four-week moving average fell to 566,250 from the previous week's revised average of 571,000.

Continuing claims, which measure the number of people receiving ongoing unemployment help, fell to 6.133 million for the week ended August 15, the most recent week for which the government has data.

The closely watched continuing claims number is now at its lowest level since early April.

However, Boockvar noted, While some are finding new jobs (which of course is good) and falling off the continuing claims rolls, many are still seeing their benefits exhausted and thus are falling into other categories.

The labor market is likely to remain in focus next week, with the Labor Department scheduled to release its report on the employment situation in the month of August on Friday.

Earlier this month, the Labor Department released a report showing a continued decline in employment in the month of July, although the pace of job losses slowed by even more than economists had been anticipating.

The report showed that non-farm payroll employment fell by 247,000 jobs in July following a revised decrease of 443,000 jobs in June. Economists had been expecting employment to fall by 325,000 jobs compared to the drop of 467,000 jobs originally reported for the previous month.

The Labor Department also said that the unemployment rate unexpectedly edged down to 9.4 percent in July from 9.5 percent in June. With the decrease, the unemployment rate fell for the first time since April of 2008.

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