NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment insurance fell for the second straight week, according to weekly government data released Thursday.
There were 448,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended April 24, down 11,000 from an upwardly revised 459,000 the previous week, according to the Labor Department's weekly report.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected new claims to fall to 445,000 in the latest week. The number of new claims was the lowest since the 442,000 reported in the week ended March 27.
The Labor Department also tracks the four-week moving average of initial claims, which smoothes out volatility in the measure. That number reached 462,500 for the week, up 1,500 from the previous week's revised average of 461,000.
"The claims numbers are moving in right direction," said John Canally, an economist for LPL Financial.
"We'd like to see claims stay below 400,000 to get more confidence about robust jobs growth," he added.
The number of people filing continuing claims totaled 4,645,000 in the week ended April 17, the most recent data available. That figure was down 18,000 from the preceding week's revised 4,663,000 claims, and slightly above the 4,625,000 economists expected, according to Briefing.com. Continuing claims were down for the fourth straight week.
The four-week moving average for continuing claims totaled 4,639,000, down 9,000 from the preceding week's revised average of 4,648,000.
Continuing claims data exclude people whose benefits expired or those who have moved to state or federal extensions. It reflects those filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate on April 15 approved an extension of unemployment insurance until June 2. In March, the government instituted a number of tax breaks for businesses and other measures spark job growth and nudge the stubborn 9.7% unemployment rate down.
Many economists expect the jobless rate to tick down slightly when the number is announced on May 7.
Although Canally expects to see some distortion in the May jobs data, largely because of the temporary Census workers, he forecast an umemployment rate of 9.6%. He says that number could fall to 9.25% by year-end.
Jobless claims fell the most in New York, with a dip of 21,010 in the week ended April 17, primarily due to fewer layoffs in the service and transportation industries.
California and Pennsylvania rounded out the top three states with the largest declines in new claims. Puerto Rico, Iowa, and Georgia didn't fare as well, topping the list of areas with the largest increases in initial claims.
The report follows a spate of promising economic data including strong retail sales, and better-than-expected corporate earnings and housing data. But that upbeat news has been overshadowed by troubles on the international stage, which peaked this week with the downgrade of Greek, Portuguese andSpanish sovereign debt ratings.
Many economists expect gradual improvement to continue on the jobs front, but the process of getting back to normal unemployment levels is likely to take years.
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