NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In another sign that the job market is slowly recovering, the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to a nearly 3-year low.
There were 368,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Feb. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was down 20,000 from the week before, and the lowest since May 2008.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected initial claims to rise to 400,000 in the latest report.
The 4-week moving average of initial claims, which aims to smooth out volatility, also improved, falling to 388,500 from the previous week's revised average of 401,250. That's the lowest since July 2008.
The weekly figure has hovered close to the 400,000 level since December, but are on a downward trajectory.
"The most positive thing seems to be that claims broke out of the 400,000 range, where they've been stuck for a while," said Dan Cook, chief executive officer of IG Markets. "Not to say we can't pop back up, but it seems like jobless claims are heading lower into the next range, around 350,000."
Still, Cook added that while the job market is headed in the right direction, it's recovering only at a snail's pace, with job creation at sluggish levels.
"We're still not out of the woods," he said. "The housing sector is in really rough shape, and even though corporations have a lot of cash on their balance sheets, they're not ready to let it go. Those two factors make it really difficult to add jobs."
The Labor Department is on tap to release the February jobs report Friday morning. Economists are expecting the economy added 190,000 jobs last month, up from just a gain of 50,000 in January.
The unemployment rate is expected to tick up to 9.2%, after falling to 9% in January.
The EpiPen scandal has transformed Mylan Pharmaceuticals and its powerful CEO Heather Bresch into the newest symbols of corporate greed gone bad. More
Nearly 10,000 current and former Chipotle workers have joined a class action lawsuit alleging the company forced them to work 'off the clock' without pay. More
Apple is expected to announce the latest iPhone at its annual September press event next week. More
In 1998, Ntsiki Biyela won a scholarship to study wine making. Now she's about to launch her own brand. More
Dreaming of a vacation but can't afford to buy the plane tickets? You can now get financing on airfare on CheapAir.com. More