The number of U.S. workers making new applications for unemployment benefits held steady last week, but the four-week average continued to decline—a sign that the nation’s jobs market is showing gradual improvement.

Initial jobless claims totaled 351,000 during the week ended Feb. 18, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That equaled the previous week’s figure, which the agency revised higher from an earlier estimate of 348,000.

While new jobless claims didn’t budge, the four-week moving average fell by 7,000 to 359,000, putting it at its lowest point since the week of March 22, 2008. In the last six weeks, new claims have dropped four times.

The four-week average has remained below 400,000 since early November, a level economists traditionally have said is needed for the economy to show an overall net gain in jobs.

Continue reading →