The number of Americans lining up to claim first-time unemployment aid edged lower last week, largely in line with expectations, a government report showed on Thursday.
Claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 1,000 to 342,000 in the week ended Jan. 24, down from a revised 343,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said. Analysts were expecting claims of 340,000 after the originally reported 341,000 in the Jan. 17 week.
The closely watched four-week moving average, considered a more reliable gauge of labor market health because it smoothes volatility, increased 750 to 346,000.
A Labor Department official said there were no special factors in the report. Analysts will be keeping a careful eye on the jobless claims numbers ahead of the Labor Department's January report on employment, due out next week.
December's disappointing report showed only 1,000 new jobs were created, even though the weekly jobless claims data had been pointing to an improvement. The weak employment growth was a blow to President Bush as he tries to take credit for a recovering economy in the run up to the November election.
A pickup in the labor market is seen as crucial for a sustained economic recovery.