New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly more than expected last week, government data showed on Thursday, offering a ray of hope for the anemic labor market recovery.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 in the week ended July 24, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 459,000 from the previously reported 464,000 the prior week, which was revised slightly up to 468,000 in Thursday's report.

The four-week average of new jobless claims, seen as a better measure of underlying labor market trends, fell 4,500 to 452,500.

A Labor Department official described the report as fairly straight forward. Jobless claims have not fallen much this year and remain above levels that analysts say are consistent with sustained jobs growth.

Sluggish jobs growth remains the biggest obstacle to the economy's recovery from its longest and deepest recession since the 1930s, which showed signs of slowing down in the last couple of months.

The government is expected to report on Friday that growth slowed to a 2.5 percent annual rate in the April-June period from a 2.7 percent pace in the first three months of the year.

In the week ended July 17, 4.57 million people were still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid, up 81,000 from the prior week. The continuing claims data covered the survey period for the government's July household survey from which the national unemployment rate is derived.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast so-called continuing claims increasing to 4.55 million.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)