The U.S. initial jobless claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 654,000, down from a revised 674,000 for the week which ended on April 4, the Labor Department said Thursday in Washington.

However the total number of laid-off Americans receiving unemployment benefits rose to 5.84 million from 5.75 million in the prior week.

The 674,000 figure was the highest number of initial claims for the current recession in 26 years; initial claims reflect the pace of layoffs by companies and are considered a timely measure of the economy.

The four-week average of claims fell slightly to 657,250, the first drop after 11 straight increases.

It is not improvement or strength, but at the very least it appears things are not getting worse, Guy LeBas, chief economist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia told Bloomberg Television.

Economists expected initial claims would fall to 660,000 last week from an initially reported 669,000 the prior week, according to a Bloomberg survey. The U.S. unemployment rate jumped to 8.5%, the highest level since 1983. The U.S. lost 663,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on April 3.