WASHINGTON -- Countering signs of a spring economic slowdown, initial jobless claims unexpectedly tumbled last week to nearly the lowest level in five years, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell to 339,000 for the week ending Saturday, down from the previous week's revised figure of 355,000, according to the Labor Department report.
The figure was close to the post-recession low of 334,000 recorded in early March. Last week marked only the second time since February 2008 that initial jobless claims fell below 340,000.
Economists had projected a more modest drop to about 351,000. Weekly claims below 350,000 indicate a moderately growing labor market.
But the weekly data can be volatile and it will take some time to determine whether job growth really is picking up.