NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits declined for a second straight week last week, according to a government report released Thursday.
There were 450,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Sept.11, which included Labor Day.
That was the lowest level in two months and down 3,000 from an upwardly revised 453,000 in the previous week, the Labor Department reported.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast new jobless claims to rise to 460,000.
"This is a slight improvement, but in order to feel that the jobs market is actually improving, we've got to get it down below 390,000 a week," said Mark Tepper, managing partner of Strategic Wealth Partners. "So we're still a long way away from where we need to be."
Delays due to the Labor Day holiday on Monday could have also caused the latest reading to come in slightly lower, he said.
"Things may be backed up a bit, so we're looking forward to next week for claims to give confirmation that the employment situation is in fact improving," he said.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, calculated to smooth out volatility, totaled 464,750, down 13,500 from the previous week's revised average of 478,250.
Hiring?: While the level of initial jobless claims is down about 10% from a month ago, according to Tepper, companies remain cautious about hiring.
Employers are sending a mixed picture. Fedex announced significant cuts to its workforce, Boeing said the airline industry needs to hire 1 million employees in the next 10 years and a slew of small businesses have announced hiring plans.
"We're going to see gradual improvement, so some companies are going to be downsizing, while some companies are going to be hiring," said Tepper. "But overall, there's still a lot of anxiety about whether the economy is slowing, so that's probably holding a lot of companies back from ramping up their hiring too much."
Meanwhile, the government's closely-watched national jobs report released earlier this month showed that the economy cut payrolls in August. But downsizing was less severe than expected, with employers eliminating 54,000 jobs, compared to the loss of 120,000 economists had forecast.
The national unemployment rate also remains stubbornly high -- at 9.6%. Tepper said he expects the rate to ease down to about 9% by the end of the year.
"There's going to be some slow but steady job creation happening over the next 12 to 18 months," he said. "But we're not going to see any blockbuster numbers any time soon."
Continuing claims: The number of people continuing to file unemployment claims for a second week or more fell to 4,485,000 during the week ended Sept. 4, the most recent data available. That's down 84,000 from an upwardly revised 4,569,000 the week before.
Economists were expecting continuing claims to edge down to 4,445,000 from 4,478,000 the week before.
The four-week moving average for ongoing claims fell by 7,500 to 4,503,000 million from the preceding week's revised 4,510,500.
State by state: Jobless claims in Florida, New York and Michigan fell by more than 1,000 in the week ended Sept. 4, which is the most recent state data available. Claims in Florida dropped the most, by 5,619, which the state attributed to fewer layoffs in the construction, trade, service and agriculture industries.