The difference between last week and this week's initial jobless claims was only 1,000. But at least it didn't go up.
The number of Americans submitting new applications for jobless benefits edged down last week, easing concerns the labor market was deteriorating after April's weak employment growth.
While the claims data indicated the economy remained on a moderate growth path, a report from the Commerce Department showing a widening in the trade deficit in March suggested economic growth was much slower in the first quarter than initially believed.
New claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised up to 368,000 from the previously reported 365,000.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims inching up to 369,000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, fell 5,250 to 379,000.
"It looks like the (jobless claims) numbers are reverting to the declining trend that got interrupted briefly," Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.
Separately, the trade gap grew 14.1 percent to $51.8 billion, the biggest jump in nearly a year, even though exports also hit a record high.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected the trade gap to widen to about $50 billion.
The weak trade balance number could cause the government to lower its first-quarter growth estimate to below an annual pace of 2 percent from 2.2 percent, according to economists.
"Below an annual pace of 2 percent" means a growth rate in the high 1%. To use the word "sluggish" would be to paint too rosy a picture. It's downright anemic and means that much of the country is still in recession despite the glowing words about "recovery."
Figures like this hardly matter. People will make a determination of their own economic situation based not on government figures but on what's happening in their own lives. In that respect, the economy is still lousy for tens of millions of Americans - not likely voters for Obama in November.