Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 409,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday, continuing to unwind the prior weeks spike.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 420,000. The prior weeks figure was revised up to 438,000 from the previously reported 434,000.
The four-week moving average of unemployment claims, a better measure of underlying trends, rose 1,250 to 439,000 - the highest level since mid-November.
The data covers the survey period for the governments closely watched employment report for May, which will be released early next month.
The recent jump in claims, blamed on auto layoffs because of supply chain disruptions from March's Japanese earthquake and problems with adjusting data for seasonal variations, had raised fears of a pull back in the pace of job creation. (read more)