The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week to its lowest level in a month, an upbeat signal for a labor market that has struggled to create enough jobs.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
It was the first drop in new claims since the week that ended Aug. 4 and the lowest level since then as well.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dipping to 370,000 last week. The prior week's figure was revised up to show 3,000 more applications than previously reported.
However, the four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, edged up to 371,250.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the data and no sign Hurricane Isaac affected the level of claims. The storm hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last week, disrupting business at the region's ports, airports and oil refineries.
The report has no direct bearing on Friday's monthly employment report for August, which is expected to show nonfarm payrolls rose by a modest 125,000 last month, while the unemployment rate is seen staying the same at 8.3 percent.
The state of the labor market, particularly the unemployment rate, could determine whether the Federal Reserve will offer additional monetary stimulus to the economy at its Sept. 12-13 policy meeting.
The unemployment rate has been stuck above 8 percent for more than three years.
Although housing and retail sales data suggest that economic activity picked up early in the third quarter, business spending is weakening and inflation is slowing.
In the week ended Aug. 25, the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell to 3.322 million, the Labor Department said.