Two positive reports released on jobs

Two new reports on Thursday provided some optimism the jobs market is improving.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level since May, the first positive sign in weeks that layoffs could be slowing. 

Separately, payroll provider ADP said private-sector businesses added 176,000 jobs to their payrolls in June, better than the revised total of 136,000 jobs for May. 

The two reports come a day ahead of the closely watched monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both President Obama and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will be watching that report closely for signs of how the U.S. economy is doing. In May, the monthly report found the economy added only 68,000 jobs, a devastating blow for Obama's campaign.

The weekly report found unemployment claims fell by 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 374,000 for the week ending June 30, the lowest number since May 19, according to the Labor Department. 

The four-week average, which is less volatile than the weekly figure, dropped slightly, down 1,500 to 385,750.

Economists argue that applications need to fall below the 375,000 level to reflect a healthy job market and falling unemployment rate.  

Estimates for Friday's report range between 90,000 and 100,000, much lower than what ADP reported on Thursday. 

Economists have said they expect hiring to pick up again this summer after a lull through the spring that they consider "payback" for the rapid growth over the warm winter, which shifted some hiring.