Claims for unemployment benefits fall

New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, the Labor Department said in an encouraging sign for the struggling job market.

Initial jobless claims — an indicator of layoff trends — had risen for three straight weeks last month, reaching a high of 389,000 in the week that ended May 26. And sure enough, the jobs report for the month of May turned out to be every bit as gloomy, with the economy having created just 69,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rising to 8.2%.

But new filings for unemployment benefits fell back to 377,000 in the week that ended June 2, and the four-week moving average of jobless claims stood at 377,750 — slightly higher than the previous four-week average, the department reported Thursday.

“The latest improvement bodes well for further improvement,” said Sara Kline of Moody’s Analytics, cautioning that initial claims data, though seasonally adjusted, tend to be more volatile in the week containing the Memorial Day holiday, when government offices are closed.

“Another week of steady or improved claims would be a surer sign of sustainable improvement,” she wrote in a research note.

Thursday’s report showed continuing unemployment claims for the week that ended May 26 rose 34,000, to 3.29 million. Meanwhile, the number of workers receiving emergency unemployment compensation, seasonally unadjusted, fell 45,808 in the week that ended May 19 to 2.57 million — a figure that’s ticking down as more long-term unemployed are finding it harder to qualify for extended benefits.