Jobless claims fell 26,000 to 319,000 in the week ended May 3 from a revised 345,000 in the prior period, the Labor Department reported.
The median forecast of 52 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a decrease to 325,000.
Fewer layoffs set the stage for bigger gains in employment and wages. While payrolls rebounded in April after a weather-induced soft patch earlier in the year, many companies are proceeding with caution while they wait for a sustained pickup in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the economy.
“Claims are drifting lower on a longer-trend basis,” said Jacob Oubina, a senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets. “I think hiring will creep slightly higher.”
The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, climbed to 324,750 from 320,250 the week before.
The number of people continuing to collect benefits dropped by 76,000 to 2.69 million in the week ended April 26.