WASHINGTON — After three straight weeks of elevated readings, first-time jobless claims fell by a much bigger-than-expected 27,000 last week to 365,000, the Labor Department said.
The drop was the largest in nearly a year and brought the weekly count of initial filings for jobless benefits down to levels seen in March.
The report eased concerns ahead of Friday's important monthly jobs report for April.
The filings for jobless benefits, released Thursday, give an indication of layoff trends. Week to week, the data can be volatile, so analysts also look at the four-week moving average. That figure rose 750 from the previous week to 383,500.
The Labor Department didn't say what accounted for the sharp fall in jobless filings last week, but analysts said seasonal factors may have boosted the claims data in prior weeks. Statisticians adjust the weekly data to smooth out seasonal variations because of weather, holidays and other factors.
Analysts said Thursday's report was a welcome relief after several weeks of mostly disappointing data on the job market that raised concerns of deteriorating economic and labor conditions.
"The latest reading puts claims back on track, near their February multiyear lows," said Sara Kline, an analyst atMoody'sAnalytics. But in a research note, she added: "Claims data are returning to healthier levels, but it is still the lack of hiring that is a larger hurdle to a stronger labor market rebound."
Moody's Analytics is expecting Friday's report to show that the economy added 125,000 jobs in April, just slightly more than the disappointingly small 120,000 jobs that were created in March. The unemployment rate in March was 8.2%.