WASHINGTON (AP) _ Applications for unemployment benefits, after hitting a two-month high, edged down slightly last week, signaling that the labor market remains generally healthy.
The number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits totaled 339,000 last week, a drop of 4,000 from the previous week when claims had surged.
The big increase in claims for the week ending April 7 had been discounted as more related to trouble adjusting the claims data for the Easter holiday than to any fundamental weakness in the labor market.
Economists believe that the labor market remains fundamentally sound even with the slumping housing industry, which has contributed to more layoffs and weakness in some manufacturing industries such as autos.
Even with the economy in the midst of a yearlong economic slowdown, the overall labor market has remained healthy. The unemployment rate dipped in March to 4.4 percent, matching a five-year low, as employers boosted hiring by 180,000 workers.
The four-week moving average for jobless claims rose slightly to 328,750 last week while the total number of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits rose to 2.53 million for the week ending April 7. That was the highest level since the first week in March.
The Federal Reserve, which next meets May 9, is expected to keep interest rates unchanged, reflecting various comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues that their primary worry remains the threat that the slowing economy will not cause inflation to moderate.
For the week ending April 7, 46 states and territories had an increase in jobless claims while seven had a decrease.
The state with the largest increase was California, an increase of 8,644 which was attributed to increased layoffs in service industries. Other states with big increases were Pennsylvania, up 7,834, due to increased layoffs in construction, trade and service industries; New York, up 3,842; and Florida, up 3,617.
The biggest decline was a drop of 1,382 in Missouri that was attributed to fewer layoffs in the transportation industry.
While the national data is adjusted for normal seasonal variations, the state figures are not.