US weekly jobless claims fell to 361,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, in another data sign that the jobs market has some moderate strength despite the second quarter lull in hiring.
New claims for unemployment insurance, a measure of the pace of layoffs, fell by 6,000 in the week to August 4 from the previous week; the four-week moving average for new claims was at 368,250.
The data added to the modestly positive picture painted by the monthly job creation numbers for July released last Friday, when the department said the economy generated a net 163,000 new jobs, a strong rise after June's dismal 64,000 number.
The unemployment rate rose 0.1 points to 8.3 percent in July, but that was mainly due to rounding of jobless numbers that were in reality little-changed for the month.
"The clear decline (in claims numbers) since June provides some corroboration of the better-than-expected payrolls reading last week. In short, encouraging data for the recovery," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.
The high level of unemployment and the economy's ability to generate jobs and boost family incomes is seen as the most important issue in the battle between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win the White House in November's presidential election.