The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment aid fell last week to nearly its lowest level in 4 1/2 years, a sign that the labor market is healing.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised to show 1,000 more applications than previously reported.

After spiking in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in late October, the weekly levels of new claims have now dropped to their lowest levels since the early days of the 2007-09 recession. The four-week moving average fell 11,250 last week to 356,750, the lowest since March 2008.

That suggests the surge in layoffs since the recession may have run its course, although companies still are adding to their payrolls at a lackluster pace.

The report included a caveat, at least for the latest week. President Barack Obama declared Monday a holiday for federal workers and many state offices followed suit and were unable to provide complete data for last week's jobless claims. Data for 19 states was estimated, a Labor Department official said. Fourteen of those states submitted their own estimates, which tend to be fairly accurate because the state officials work with a significant amount of data, the Labor Department official said.

Besides the federal holiday, there were no special factors influencing week's claims data, the department official said. (Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Neil Stempleman)