The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, a government report showed on Thursday, but remained at high levels consistent with a severe recession.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 650,000 new claims versus a previously reported 667,000 the previous week.

The number of people staying on the benefits roll after drawing an initial week of aid eased by 14,000 to 5.11 million in the week ended February 21, the latest week for which the data is available, from 5.12 million the previous week.

That number remains near record highs, indicating that the harsh economic environment is making it tough to find new jobs.

Analysts had estimated so-called continued claims would be 5.15 million from a previously reported 5.11 million the prior week. The insured unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in the week ended February 21, unchanged from the previous week.

The four-week moving average for new claims, considered to be a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose to 641,750 in the week ended February 28 from 639,750 the week before.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea Ricci)