The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits edged higher last week, but a trend reading dropped to its lowest in five years and pointed to ongoing healing in the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected 342,000 first-time applications last week.
The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labor market trends, fell 7,500 to 339,750, the lowest level since February 2008.
That could bode well for job growth in March.
"There is enough strength in the economy to generate jobs on a sustained basis," said Sam Bullard, an economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bullard noted however that government belt tightening and the growing risk of a flare-up in Europe's debt crisis created headwinds for the economy.