New claims for unemployment benefits dropped in the latest week, although they remain stuck at levels that show the job market remains soft.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that seasonally adjusted jobless claims slid 6,000 to 386,000. The four-week moving average, which smooths out wrinkles in the data, dropped 750 to 386,750.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims easing to 385,000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, slipped 750 to 386,750.
The labor market has lost a step in recent months as uncertainty spawned by the debt crisis in Europe and an unclear fiscal policy path at home has made businesses reluctant to hire. However, there are no signs in the claims data that companies are responding to that uncertainty by laying off workers.
Jobless claims have barely moved since April and the lack of improvement suggests a fundamental weakness in the labor market.
Concerns about the jobs market prompted the Federal Reserve last week to ease monetary policy further by extending a program to re-weight bonds it already holds toward longer maturities to hold down borrowing costs.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and no state had been estimated.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 15,000 to 3.3 million in the week ended June 16.
That covered the survey period for June's unemployment rate. The jobless rate rose in May for the first time since last August and could remain elevated as most states stop offering extended benefits to the long-term unemployed.
Only six states and the District of Columbia were offering extended benefits in the week ended June 9. A total of 5.9 million people were claiming unemployment benefits under all programs during that period, up 71,724 from the previous week.
Reuters contributed to this report.