The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week, government data on Thursday showed, but so-called continued claims rose to a fresh record as the recession bit.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits declined 53,000 to a seasonally adjusted 610,000 in the week ended April 11 from a revised 663,000 the week before, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast new claims of 655,000 versus a previously reported count of 654,000 the week before.

The number of people staying on the benefits roll after drawing an initial week of aid rose 172,000 to a more-then-forecast 6.022 million in the week ended April 4, the most recent week for which data is available.

It was the highest level of continued claims on record and pushed the insured unemployment rate to 4.5 percent, the highest since 1983, from 4.4 percent the previous week. Analysts estimated continued claims would be 5.89 million.

A Labor Department official said the majority of the decline in new claims came from states that had posted large increases in claims in the previous few weeks, mainly from layoffs in the automotive sector and other short-term layoffs.

He said new claims due to the timing of the spring break vacation, as well as a changeover between calendar quarters, might also have influenced claims, which were lower than expected by seasonal factors estimated by the Labor Department.

The severe U.S. recession has already cost millions of jobs and pushed unemployment levels to 8.5 percent last month.

The four-week average of new jobless claims, a better gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell to 651,000 from 659,500 the week before.

(Reporting by Alister Bull, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)