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Jobless claims steady as labor market grows tepidly

The U.S. labor market showed another sign of tepid growth Thursday when the government reported that new claims for unemployment benefits essentially were flat in the latest week.

The Labor Department reported that seasonally-adjusted claims for jobless benefits decreased by 2,000 to 370,000 in the week ended May 19. Economists had been expecting the data to be flat.

The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of job market health, fell 5,500 to 375,500.

Jobless claims remain just barely below the crucial 400,000 mark that economists say shows improving labor market conditions.  

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level claims data.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 29,000 to 3.26 million in the week ended May 12.

The so-called continuing claims data covered the week for the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived. The jobless rate dropped to 8.1 percent in April from 8.2 percent the prior month, but mostly as people gave up the hunt for work.

While more states are losing eligibility for extended benefits for the long-term unemployed, that is not yet being fully captured in the claims data as the figures are reported with a time lag .

Economists expect that as more people fall off the unemployment benefit rolls, that will artificially push down the jobless rate. Out-of-work people not receiving benefits are not obliged to be actively looking for work, a key criteria to be counted as unemployed.

The number of people on extended benefits dipped 4,800 to 299,955 in the week ended May 5, the latest week for which data is available. Only 15 states and the District of Columbia were offering extended benefits during that period.

There were 2.63 million Americans receiving emergency unemployment checks during that period, down 35,500 from the prior week.

A total of 6.17 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week ending May 5 under all programs, down 105,004 from the previous week.

Reuters contributed to this report.