The number of Americans submitting new applications for jobless benefits edged down last week, easing concerns the labour market was deteriorating after April's weak employment growth.
While the claims data indicated the US economy remained on a moderate growth path, a report from the Commerce Department showing a widening in the trade deficit in March suggested economic growth was much slower in the first quarter than initially believed.
New claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, the Labour Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised up to 368.000 from the previously reported 365.000.
The weak trade balance number could cause the government to lower its first-quarter growth estimate to below an annual pace of 2% from 2.2% percent, according to economists.
Coming on the heels of April's sluggish employment gains, the claims data could calm fears the labour market was stagnating. Companies added a meagre 115.000 new jobs to their payrolls in April, the fewest in six months, the government reported last Friday.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 61.000 to 3.23 million in the week ended April 28. That was the lowest level since July 2008.
The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits fell 36.275 to 2.69 million in the week ended April 21, the latest week for which data is available. The number of people on extended benefits slipped 4.304 to 350.579.
Some states are losing their eligibility for extended benefits and reducing the duration of emergency compensation. That could artificially push down the unemployment rate as people dropping off the benefits rolls give up the hunt for work.
A drop in the share of working-age Americans either with a job or looking for one to near a 30-1/2-year low pushed the jobless rate down to 8.1% last month from 8.2% in March.