The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment aid applications stayed at a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the same level as the previous week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell from roughly 380,000 to 375,000.
Applications for benefits surged in April to a five-month high of 392,000. They have fallen back since then and are near the lowest levels in four years.
The decline suggests hiring could pick up in May after slumping in the previous two months. When applications drop below 375,000 a week, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
“Although another decline would have been preferred, the results weren’t that bad,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, in a note to clients. “It does raise the possibility that we may see a pickup in hiring in May.”
The unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.1 percent last month. Part of the reason for the drop is that employers have added a million jobs over the past five months. But it has also declined because some people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively looking for a job.