The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000 last week, evidence that the job market is still improving modestly, despite signs of slower growth.
The Labor Department says the four-week average, a less volatile figure, declined 2,750 to 345,750. That's near the five-year low of 338,000 that the average touched last month.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Since March, they have fluctuated between 340,000 and 360,000, a level consistent with steady hiring. Employers added 175,000 jobs in May, almost matching the average monthly gain for the past year.
Steady job gains could help the economy expand later this year. Growth was only 1.8 percent at an annual rate in the first quarter, the government said Wednesday, down from a previous estimate of 2.4 percent.