June 7, 2012 at 8:56 AM ET
Fewer Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits in the latest week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the first drop in four weeks and could signal that the labor market remains on the mend, albeit in fits and starts.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that seasonally-adjusted claims fell 12,000 to 377,000, within expectations. The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of labor market conditions because it smooths out wrinkles in the data, rose by 1,750 to 377,750.
The last time news claims fell was in the week that ended April 28.
The report comes almost a week after a disappointing monthly employment report that showed employers added a tepid 69,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate inched up to 8.2 percent. But it comes ahead of congressional testimony scheduled for later in the day by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, where he could give clues about the likelihood of further policy easing.
On Wednesday, Janet Yellen, Bernanke's deputy and the vice chair of the Fed, laid out the case for the central bank to provide more support to a fragile economy as financial turmoil in Europe mounts.
The Labor Department last week said job growth slowed in May for the fourth straight month, heightening concerns that the deepening debt crisis in Europe and a slowdown in China were starting to dampen an already lackluster recovery.
Concerns over the course of fiscal policy may also be weighing.
"The number was very close to expectations. We've had a deterioration in the last few months and now it looks like claims are plateauing. It doesn't really give you a clear picture of how sharp the recent slowing in the job market was. Overall, this data doesn't add to the debate about whether the Fed should do another round of easing," said Vassili Serebriakov, senior currency strategist for Wells Fargo.
Reuters contributed to this report.