Jobless claims jumped more than expected last week but are trending lower, reflecting a gradually improving labor market.
Weekly applications for unemployment insurance increased 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, a sign that employers are laying off fewer workers and increasing hiring, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Overall, the number of those in the benefits pipeline dropped to 2.65 million, the lowest level since the start of the recession in December 2007.
While long-term unemployment remains a serious issue, those who are losing their jobs are finding new work at a faster pace.
After months of work, Congress has failed to push through a bill that would have provided a renewal of emergency benefits for those who have been out of work for at least six months.
Senate Democrats, with help from a handful of Republicans, produced a five-month bill that was supposed to provide benefits through the end of May.
But House GOP leaders refused to consider the measure, essentially killing it.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said the legislation didn't meet his demand for job creating initiatives and, instead, urged President Obama to press Senate Democrats to consider job-creation measures passed by the lower chamber.
All told, the claims reflect stronger hiring trend that has kicked in this spring.
After a weak winter, employers added 288,000 jobs in April, and the jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent, even though that was partly because of less labor market participation.
But the rate drop occurred because fewer people looked for work.
For the remainder of the year, the economy is expected to grow at a much faster pace — probably about 3.5 percent in the second quarter — than the first three months of the year.
Growth for the January-March period came in at a 0.1 percent rate but is now expected to show that the economy contracted during the period, mostly due to cold weather that weighed on consumer spending.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve's April minutes report said that "growth in economic activity has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply during the winter in part because of adverse weather conditions."
"Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement," the report said.
The Fed said that there is "sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor market conditions."