NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in three months last week, according to a government report released Thursday.
There were 434,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Oct.23, the Labor Department reported.
That was down 21,000 from a revised 455,000 in the previous week and the lowest level since the week of July 9.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast new jobless claims to rise to 458,000.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, calculated to smooth out volatility, totaled 453,250, down 5,500 from the previous week's revised average of 458,750.
Jobless claims have been stuck in a tight range since last November, struggling to break out of the mid- to upper-400,000 range and even topping 500,000 in August.
So a reading in the lower-400,000's is a welcome improvement, said Tim Quinlan, economic analyst at Wells Fargo.
"We've been stuck in this band between 450,000 and 500,000 for most of 2010, so to break through that and get to 434,000 is definitely a step in the right direction," he said. "That said, we're still not yet at a level that would be consistent with private sector growth in employment."
Quinlan said a level below 400,000 is typically associated with payroll growth, but that claims are likely to continue inching lower as employment picks up.
"One week does not a trend make, but the 4-week average is continuing to come down as well," he said. "We think we're probably on the verge of turning the corner to experiencing more broad-based job growth, though it's not going to be fast enough to bring us back to pre-recession levels right away."
Continuing claims: The number of people continuing to file unemployment claims for a second week or more fell to 4,356,000 during the week ended Oct. 16, the most recent data available. That's down 122,000 from a revised 4,478,000 the week before.
Economists were expecting continuing claims to edge down to 4,428,000.
The four-week moving average for ongoing claims fell by 38,500 to 4,447,250 from the preceding week's revised 4,485,750.
State by state: Jobless claims in 17 states fell by more than 1,000 in the week ended Oct. 16. Claims in California dropped the most -- by 13,701 -- which the state attributed to fewer layoffs in the service industry. Claims in North Carolina dropped 6,607, and claims in New York fell 6,382.
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