Jobless claims dropped 6,000 last week

First-time claims for jobless benefits fell last week, a sign that the labor market is gradually improving.

Applications for unemployment insurance fell 6,000 to 312,000 in the week that ended June 14, as businesses lay off fewer workers, the Labor Department said Thursday.

All told, the number of workers receiving benefits hit nearly a seven-year low, falling 54,000 to 2.56 million for the week ending June 7, the lowest since October 2007.

The four-week average, which better reflects the direction of the labor market, declined to 311,750.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said Wednesday that "unemployment remains elevated, and a broader assessment of indicators suggests that underutilization in the labor market remains significant."

After the central bank’s two-day meeting, Fed officials said that “there is sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing improvement in labor market conditions.”

The Fed cut its asset purchases by another $10 billion and “expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and labor market conditions will continue to improve gradually.”

Employers added 217,000 jobs in May, recovering all of the jobs lost during the recession, while the jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent. 

The economy has shown signs of life since the winter put growth into a deep freeze — the economy shrank at a 1 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year. 

Growth could land somewhere between 3 and 4 percent for the April-June quarter.