The economy needs jobless claims to drop into the low 400,000s or high 300,000s to reflect stronger job growth in the private sector and propel the recovery.
The four-week moving average, which smoothes out the volatility of the weekly number and provides a better gauge of the employment situation, fell for the sixth straight week, dropping by 3,000 to 455,750, down from last week's revised level of 458,750.
Concerns grew when weekly applications for jobless benefits increased above 500,000 in August. The gradual decline has calmed fears that companies were going through another round of layoffs.
The total number of people continuing to receive unemployment insurance fell by 48,000 in the week ended Sept. 25 to 4.46 million, the lowest since June 26.
Those receiving extended benefits — up to 99 weeks in some states — who have exhausted their traditional benefits rose by about 257,000 to 5.14 million in the week ended Sept. 18, the latest data available. About 8.8 million people received benefits that week.